Tue | Oct 20, 2020

New HPV vaccine push - Health ministry to target girls just entering high schools

Published:Wednesday | July 25, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
In this September 2017 photo, Tamara Amos-Williams (left), a guidance counsellor at the Holy Trinity High School, encourages parents to allow their girls to be vaccinated for HPV.

Officials of the Ministry of Health will be attending the orientation ceremonies of high schools across the island in an effort to get more girls vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), after a slow start to the programme last year.

The national HPV programme was introduced last October in an effort to protect an estimated 22,338 grade seven girls against cervical cancer by giving them two doses of the vaccine at least six months apart.

But director of Family Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Melody Ennis, told The Sunday Gleaner that only 7,188 girls received the first dose of the vaccine between October and December 2017, and only 4,868 of the targeted population received the second dose since they started administering it in April.

"We continue to vaccinate for the second dose," said Ennis as she added, "there are several reasons, including absenteeism, transfers, migration that will lessen the number that should get the second dose of the more than 7,000 cohort."

Ennis said that in addition to attending orientations, health officials will also be offering the vaccine at health centres so that the girls can receive it as part of their medicals.

"The grade seven students, beginning in September, we have a schedule of when orientation will take place, so our team will be present to sensitise, to give as much information as possible, and if parents agree, we will give the vaccine at that time as well," added Ennis.

She said the ministry continues to host sensitisation sessions with parents and students, as well as attend parent-teacher association meetings to educate persons about the importance of the vaccine.

"We have prepared some testimonials which will be aired shortly and are looking to launch our media campaign in short order," said Ennis.

"We are encouraging the parents to get as much information as possible regarding the vaccine so that their decisions can be informed and in the best interest of the child," added Ennis.




The health ministry has so far spent more than $70 million for the implementation of the national HPV programme, and despite widespread scepticism, Ennis said there is no need for parents to worry.

"We are creating our own statistics right here in Jamaica, we have vaccinated more than 7,000 girls and we have had no adverse effects from the vaccine to date," she said.

"We need to get all hands on deck. This is something that will benefit the entire nation. We must recognise that cervical cancer kills and it also limits person's productivity. It is a very painful illness," declared Ennis.

In a joint statement last week, the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation pointed to what they said was compelling scientific evidence that vaccines work, and argued that with the HPV vaccine cervical cancer could be a thing of the past.

In an article penned by Cuauhtemoc Ruiz-Matus, chief of immunisation at PAHO, and Lucia Helena de Oliveira, PAHO's regional adviser in new vaccines, it was argued that the vaccination of an estimated 33 million girls in the Americas at the end of 2016 would prevent more than 307,000 cases of the virus and 133,000 deaths from cervical cancer in the future.

Thirty-two countries in the region are now vaccinating against HPV, which is directly responsible for seven out of 10 cases of cervical cancer. An estimated 83,000 women are diagnosed with the disease and 35,000 die from it annually.

"In developing countries, many women find out too late that they have HPV, generally when seeking treatment for genital warts, precancerous lesions or more series issues which reduce their chance of survival.

"This is why a cervical cancer prevention programme that includes universal HPV vaccination for girls, as well as screening services and treatment for those who need it, has the potential to end cervical cancer," said the authors.

They argued that, "girls between the ages of nine and 14 should be vaccinated with two doses of HPV vaccine administered between six and 15 months apart. HPV vaccines given to this age group are more effective and girls have a better immune response.

"Vaccinating girls today is the only way to ensure that they have a happy and prosperous tomorrow, with one less serious cancer to worry about."

More than 270 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been applied all over the world since the vaccine was licensed.