Cervical cancer vaccine available for girls

A pilot programme to vaccinate girls aged 11 to 17 against a virus that causes cervical cancer is being launched.

HPV vaccine

Teenager receiving HPV vaccine during. Photo: File

During the six-month programme, which begins on 26 August, 150 girls will be given the human papillomavirus vaccine for free.

Christine Sanders, director of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, said that while the vaccination was approved to be administered to children as young as nine years old, initially the Cayman pilot programme would target children from the age of 11.

‘We want to get a feel for the uptake in Cayman,’ said Ms Sanders. The programme will be reviewed after six months.

The vaccine, called Gardasil, protects against four strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

The prevalence of cervical cancer is unknown in Cayman because the Islands have no cancer registry to track how common any type of cancer is here, Ms Sanders said.

According to the Pan American Health Organisation, rates of HPV in Latin America and the Caribbean are four and a half times higher in than in the US and Canada. About 33,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean die of the disease each year, compared with some 5,000 in the US.

The vaccinations have been available on island from private practitioners for about two years, at a cost of about $130 for each one of the three injections in the course.

More than 50 per cent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it. It is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s.

Minister of Health Mark Scotland announced details of the programme, undertaken by the Ministry of Health and the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, on Friday.

The vaccine is free and will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis every Wednesday from 3pm to 5pm, by appointment, through the Public Health Clinic of the Cayman Islands Hospital.

Appointments can be made by contacting the Public Health Clinic at 244-2648. Parents or guardians must attend the appointment with their children and give written consent for the vaccine being administered.

Dr. Sook Yin, medical director of the Cancer Society said the only known side effects of the vaccine are soreness at the injection site and sometimes nausea and fainting, mostly from people who may already be nervous of injections rather than a reaction to the drug itself.

The drug was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2006.

Ms Yin said it was important that the drug be available through public health for girls whose families may not be able to afford the almost $400 for the three injections.

She added that her own private practice had administered about 150 vaccinations to girls.

HPV is a common virus that can lead to pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions of the cervix, vagina and vulva, as well as genital warts.

There has been resistance in some quarters to the vaccination of children against a sexually transmitted disease, but Ms Sanders said she hoped that parents, through education and a public awareness campaign, would realise that they are protecting their children from future infection.

‘They need to do their own research and homework too. It is the parents’ right to choose… Every parent wants to think their child is a good girl, but you have those unfortunate situations where rape or abuse may occur, or down the road your daughter’s partner may have HPV. There are lots of scenarios,’ she said.

‘It’s not necessarily something you’re protecting against today, but protecting for the future.’

Mr. Scotland said: ‘Our immunisation programme continues to be among our best investments. I encourage young women and their parents or guardians to take advantage of this immunisation programme.’

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society and the Public Health Department will launch a public awareness campaign about cervical cancer and the HPV.

Leaflets will also be available at awareness sessions and from the Cayman Islands Cancer Society on Maple Road, all Health Services Authority facilities, doctor’s offices and libraries.

Appointments can be made by contacting the Public Health Clinic at 244-2648. Parents or guardians must attend the appointment with their children and give written consent for the vaccine being administered.