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HPV vaccine – Prevent Cancer

Today, I was privileged to attend my 1st meeting of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, which advocates for the interests of women, children, and families throughout Hawaii. Timing couldn’t have been more appropriate for one item of legislation, that revolving around requiring children entering the 7th grade to have at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.

So the facts: HPV, or human papilloma virus, is a common virus that yearly infects about 14 million people in the US, with ~80 million currently infected. Those that are infected with the high risk HPV type may not know it or have symptoms, but they are at risk for developing certain types of cancer – cervical (the 7th most common cancer worldwide), vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and head & neck cancers. The low risk HPV type can lead to genital warts.

Now the fiction: “HPV vaccine hasn’t been around long so we don’t know the possible side effects.”

You decide. Introduced in 2006 in the US and worldwide, Gardasil was studied in 29,000 participants before being licensed and continues to be monitored. There are currently several HPV vaccines available with the newest entrant, Gardasil 9, covering nine different HPV types. Safety of the HPV vaccine has been reviewed repeatedly in the US and other countries with the most serious adverse events to be seen including fainting, headache, fever, and injection site reactions; people with severe allergies to components in the vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Although maximal effectiveness is with 3 doses, even one dose can have impact.

And the astounding facts: In 2007, Australia was one of the 1st countries to offer free HPV vaccines to girls aged 12-13. This HPV vaccine covered 2 of the most common high risk HPV types (predominant cause of cervical cancer) and 2 low risk types (that cause genital warts). More than 70% of participants received the 3 dose series. Over the 5 year study period, a dramatic decrease in genital warts were seen, as well as a decrease in the number of severe cervical abnormalities. Compare this to the US, where over a three-year period, only an abysmal 32% had received the 3 dose series. But even then, those who were vaccinated had a dramatic decrease in those HPV types. This and similar studies led to the WHO position statement recommending that the HPV vaccine be included in national immunization programs.

So now we come to the timeliness of the legislation. This week, the nation’s 69 NCI-designated Cancer Centers, including the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, issued a joint statement encouraging: “parents and guardians to have their sons and daughters complete the 3-dose vaccine; any young adult (men up to age 21, women up to age 26), who were not vaccinated to complete the 3-dose series; and all healthcare providers to strongly recommend childhood HPV vaccination.

So let’s stop cancer now. “The HPV vaccine is CANCER PREVENTION.”

Prevention IS the Best Medicine.