Australia begins injecting pre-teen boys with HPV vaccine
Pre-teen boys in Australia have begun receiving a Merck & Co. human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in a government-sponsored program designed to prevent cervical cancer, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced early February.
More than 280,000 boys will be eligible for free Gardasil, the street name of the immunization, which also protects against genital warts. Australia plans to administer it in three doses spaced over about seven months alongside an HPV vaccination for girls that began in 2007.
“Because of our work in this area, Australia’s HPV vaccine coverage rates are among the best in the world, resulting in a significant drop in HPV-related infections,” Plibersek said in an emailed statement, according to Bloomberg. “We’re confident that extending the program to males will reduce HPV-related cancers and disease in the future.”
But Australia’s Department of Health and Aging reports that HPV mostly hits mature women, “affecting women 20 to 24 years of age.” “In 98 per cent of cases, HPV clears by itself,” which raises questions regarding the necessity of the $451 million pre-teen intervention. “In rare cases, if the virus persists and if left undetected, it can lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes about 10 years,” the report adds.
“We give the HPV vaccine to 12 to 13 year olds because we know that this is firstly a great time to be vaccinated because they’re young, their immune system is really healthy and it produces fantastic antibody levels, so great levels of protection when given the vaccination at this age,” says Dr Julia Brotherton in a video promoting the program.
“When the vaccine was first developed against HPV infection, it was subjected to major clinical trials, nearly 20,000 women took part in those clinical trials, and what was done was to watch whether they could catch the infection that causes cervical cancer after they’ve been vaccinated and there was a control group who weren’t vaccinated and they caught the virus fairly frequently whereas in the group that were vaccinated, no woman caught the virus during the five years of follow up,” added Professor Ian Frazer AC.