It is safe for girls above nine-years old to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for protection against cervical cancer. Girls between the age of 9-13 years get the maximum benefit from the vaccine and it doesn’t impact their fertility as many parents fear, says Dr. Rama Joshi, gynae oncologist and director- gynaecology oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.
The HPV vaccine protects people against some types of HPV which can cause cancer.
Becoming sexually active at a very young age, having multiple sexual partners, smoking, or having a partner who is high risk for HPV, puts women at a higher risk of cervical cancer. Those with immunodeficiency are at a higher risk as well.
Dr Joshi talks to us about young girls should get the HPV vaccine, and more. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about the HPV vaccine. What is the right age to get it?
The HPV vaccine is for the primary prevention of cervical cancer; it is a universally-accepted vaccine. There are two variants of the vaccine, which protect against HPV 16 and 18 (The most common HPV types, which cause cervical cancer. There are about 100 variants of the HPV).
The HPV vaccine provides about 80% protection. These vaccines are recommended for adolescents as the effectiveness is maximum at that age. The recommended age is between 9-13 years, girls this age get the maximum benefit out of the vaccine. In India, we usually recommend it to girls between 11-13 years, but of course it can be given to women up until the age of 26.
The recommended age is between 9-13 years, girls this age get the maximum benefit. In India, we usually recommend it to girls between 11-13 years, but of course it can be given to women up until the age of 26.
Girls below 15 years of age need only two doses of the vaccine, at an interval of about 6-12 months. Whereas girls above 15 years of age need three doses.
However, I must add that even those who are vaccinated must go for screening later on. They shouldn’t just omit their screening, and they should prevent the high risk factors. There is still a 20% chance of getting the disease, the vaccine gives you 80% protection.
In India, some parents are reluctant about getting their young girls, who are not yet sexually active, vaccinated. what’s your advice to them?
I come across this questions a lot. Sometimes parents just fear that if a young girl is vaccinated, there may be some side effect/impact on her reproductive system. They fear that it will cause infertility.
But with these parents, they just need more information, and they understand that this is for the protection of their girl child. The girl will be sexually active at some point, and the vaccine is important to protect them. There are many women who are opting for vaccines for their young daughters. But if parents feel there is some confusion and they are not sure about vaccinating their daughter, they can go to the gynaecologist or an onco gynaecologist and seek more information.
From my experience, I can tell you that the acceptability of the vaccine has increased over the years. In fact in Asia, there are many countries, which have taken the HPV vaccine into their national immunisation program. In India, we are still waiting for it to be taken into our national vaccination program. We should understand that the vaccine means prevention and the immunogenicity is maximum in the adolescent girls.
There have been trials which have shown that vaccination after the age of 27 years till about up to 45 years, the protection is going to be significantly low. Therefore, every woman requires regular screening in order to pick up the disease in its precancerous or early stage.
Read more about the risk factors, prevention, and symptoms of cervical cancer here.