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Why your young daughter should get an HPV jab
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Why your young daughter should get an HPV jab

Giving an HPV vaccine to girls between the ages of nine and 12 can help prevent cervical cancer

HPV vaccine: Why you should get your children vaccinated

In November 2021, a sexagenarian woman from Bengaluru underwent an HPV (human papillomavirus) test that returned a positive result. Dr Somashekhar SP, the gynaecological surgeon who was treating her, also performed a colposcopy (a procedure through which the cervix is checked). The test showed that the woman had already developed pre-cancer.

“This meant that she may go on to develop cervical cancer later in life,” says Dr Somashekhar, global director of Aster International Institute of Oncology and an office bearer of the Association of Gynaecologic Oncologists of India.

The doctor then spoke to the woman — a mother of two daughters, aged 13 and 17 years — at length about her condition and how it could have been prevented had she taken the HPV vaccination on time. Dr Somashekhar says it took some time for him to explain to the mother that taking the vaccination now would not help her.

“Taking the vaccine doesn’t help in case the pre-cancerous lesions are already developed,” he says.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two vaccines can help prevent cancers:

  • HPV vaccine, which can prevent several kinds of cancer, and
  • Hepatitis B vaccine, which can help prevent liver cancer.

HPV: protection against cancer

The woman asked the doctor when she should have ideally taken the vaccination. “If you want to really do good, you must vaccinate your own daughters,” the doctor replied.

As the woman was quite reluctant about getting her daughters jabbed, Dr Somashekhar shared several research papers on the vaccine’s safety with her. He also told her how the governments of Australia and the Netherlands were administering the vaccine mandatorily.

When the woman mentioned that her daughter’s birthday was coming up, the doctor said she couldn’t give her daughter a better gift than protection from the deadly cancer.

“In the future, her daughter, free of HPV-related infections, will proudly say that she is protected because her mother made the right decision to vaccinate her when she was younger,” Dr Somashekhar says. “The woman connected with this emotionally and I could vaccinate both her daughters.”

HPV: A success in Australia, US

Dr SG Kasi, pediatrician and founder of Kasi Clinic in Bengaluru, says that although there is still some reluctance among parents, lately more people have started taking a proactive approach towards the HPV vaccine.

“We’re talking about administering a vaccine in the pediatric age group for a disease that may come much later in life,” says Dr Kasi, who is also on Indian Academy of Pediatrics’s advisory committee on vaccines and immunisation practices. “This sense of necessity is not there among parents yet.”

According to him, the reluctance likely stems from unsubstantiated claims about the vaccine. “Australia was one of the first countries to introduce the HPV vaccine in its national immunisation programme for all between nine and 16 years with an extension up to [the age of] 25 years,” says Dr Kasi. “Therefore, Australia has robust data that the vaccine has worked very well. It has significantly brought down the incidence of genital warts and cervical cancer precursors over a period of 10 years.”

He says that things are expected to improve in India, given the government’s recent decision to include the HPV vaccine in the national immunisation schedule.

When should HPV vaccine be taken?

Administering the HPV vaccine to a girl aged between nine and 12 years, before she becomes sexually active, can prevent cervical cancer, says Dr Somashekhar.

Dr Kasi says that the time to talk to the parents about the HPV vaccine is when they take their child to hospital at 10 years for a Tdap booster (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine. The child can take it the same day or a month later. Written handouts are given to clarify all doubts.

He says two HPV vaccines available in India have also been licensed for boys. Australia and the USA offer HPV vaccination to boys and men as well. As per the CDC, it can help “prevent future infections that can lead to cancers of the penis, anus, and back of the throat in men”.

For info on the HPV vaccine schedule, click here. 

Dr Harshavardhan Annadanam, medical oncologist at Medicover Hospitals, Hyderabad, says that as per latest recommendations, those up to the age of 45 years can get the HPV vaccine shot.

Dr Kasi says that in many places where he has suggested getting nine- or 10-year-old girls vaccinated, he has found that their mothers were equally keen on getting the vaccine for themselves.

HPV vaccine: response better at young age

Dr Kasi says that since the HPV vaccine is a prophylactic, administering it after the disease progresses in the body will not change anything. “Also, immunologically, response to the vaccine is far better in a 10-year-old versus a 25-year-old,” he says.

The doctor adds that some adolescents who are administered the vaccine tend to faint — termed as a syncopal episode. Hence the vaccine should be given when the child is sitting or lying down. “The child should be under observation for at least 10 to 15 minutes post the vaccination,” he says.

Takeaways

  • Giving an HPV vaccine to girls who are aged nine to 12, before they become sexually active, can prevent cervical cancer.
  • Common side effects of the vaccine include pain, swelling at site of injection, fever and nausea.
  • If taken before the age of 14 years, it is a two-dose vaccine.
  • If given after 14 years, it will be a three-dose vaccine.

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