Success of HPV vaccine highlighted in study

Major reduction in cervical disease in Scotland
  • Deborah Condon

The routine vaccination of 13 and 14-year-old girls in Scotland with the HPV vaccine has led to a significant reduction in cervical disease there, a recent study has found.

HPV is a family of common viruses that are passed on via sexual contact. There are many types of HPV, most of which are harmless and go away on their own. However, some strains can be serious, such as those that cause certain types of cancer and pre-cancerous lesions.

For example, HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, which kills around 90 women in Ireland every year.

In an effort to combat this, the HSE offers the HPV vaccination to girls in their first year of secondary school and from September 2019, boys will also be offered it.

In recent years, vaccination rates have fallen here, largely due to the spread of misinformation about the safety of the vaccine. However last month, the HSE announced that the uptake rate had increased to 70%, up from 50% two years ago.

This latest study focused on Scotland, which has an established cervical screening programme and in 2008, introduced a national HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 and 13.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh looked at the impact of vaccination on levels of abnormal cells and cervical lesions, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

CIN is divided into grades - CIN 1, 2 or 3. The higher the number, the higher the risk of developing invasive cancer.

The researchers analysed vaccination and screening records for over 138,000 women born between 1988 and 1996 who had a screening test result recorded at the age of 20. This was the age of invitation to first cervical screening in Scotland until mid 2016, when it was raised to 25 years.

The data included vaccinated and unvaccinated women.

It found that compared with unvaccinated women born in 1988, vaccinated women born in 1995 and 1996 showed an 89% reduction in CIN 3 or worse, an 88% reduction in CIN 2 or worse, and a 79% reduction in CIN 1.

Furthermore, younger age at vaccination was linked with increasing vaccine effectiveness - 86% for CIN 3 or worse for women vaccinated at age 12 or 13, compared with 51% for women vaccinated at age 17.

The researchers also noted that unvaccinated women showed a reduction in disease, indicating that the interruption of HPV transmission in Scotland has created substantial herd protection.

They said that these findings show that routine HPV vaccination is highly effective against high-grade cervical disease.

Details of these findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

For more information on the HPV vaccine, click here

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