Cancer experts have called for access for girls to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to be scaled up as swiftly as possible, especially in poorer countries. The experts say that the HPV vaccine, given to girls to protect them against HPV, a virus that causes cervical cancer, is a ‘critical’ health tool.
More than 310,000 women die from cervical cancer every year. The vast majority of deaths are in poorer countries where immunisation rates against the HPV virus are low.
Data shows that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally. Figures from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) showed that in 2018, an estimated 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed worldwide.
In addition, IARC said that some anti-vaccine campaigners in wealthy countries are also persuading parents to refuse the vaccination for their children, leaving them at risk.
GSK makes the HPV vaccine Cervarix, which targets two strains of the virus, while Merck (MSD) makes a rival shot, Gardasil, which targets four strains.
In a separate statement to the WHO last week, the GAVI vaccines alliance called for greater support for HPV shots, saying it aimed to immunise 40 million girls in poorer countries against HPV by 2020, averting an estimated 900,000 deaths.
IARC said reducing the cost of vaccines in poorer countries would play a vital role in increasing access to them.
It said it was working with the generic drug-maker, Serum Institute of India, to develop an HPV injection that “could provide a high-quality alternative at a lower cost.”
Commenting on the anti-vaccine campaign, IARC’s director Elisabete Weiderpass said: “Unfounded rumours about HPV vaccines continue to unnecessarily delay or impede the scaling up of vaccination.” She added that IARC was committed to fighting cervical cancer and “unequivocally confirms the efficacy and safety” of HPV shots.