A vaccine that is effective in preventing cervical cancer will be available in government high schools in Cayman in the new school year.
The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine will be introduced for free after schools reopen in September for the 2012/2013 school year, said the Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar.
“We introduced the HPV vaccine as a pilot programme previously for 11 to 17 year olds. We are planning to offer the vaccines in the government high schools in the new school year this year,” said Dr. Kumar.
Children will not be required to be inoculated with the HPV vaccine, as the vaccination programme for the virus will be a voluntary one. “It’s not mandatory. It’s a service that we would like to offer,” Dr. Kumar said.
Being available in schools means that the vaccine is more accessible to children whose parents may not have time to take them to a doctor to be vaccinated.
About 150 children were vaccinated under the six-month pilot programme, which ran in 2009.
The school vaccination programme is a joint effort between the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and the Health Services Authority. The HPV vaccine will be available free of charge to any girl aged between 11 and 17, with the permission of her parents.
Dr. Sook Yin, medical director of the Cancer Society, explained that the vaccine, which is given in three doses, usually costs $150 for each dose, meaning if a girl had to pay for it herself, it would cost a total of $450. However, thanks to an arrangement with the manufacturer of the Gardasil HPV vaccine, Merck Sharp & Dohme Co., the vaccines are being offered at $40 each.
This means that a $30,000 fund supplied by the Cancer Society to pay for the vaccines will stretch much further and more than three times as many girls can be vaccinated for that amount.
Private doctors who sign up for the programme will also be able to offer the vaccine at that same lower rate, Dr. Yin said, although she added that private physicians may also add an administration fee on top of that price. So far, 10 private doctors have signed up to that programme.
Dr. Yin advised patients to check if their insurance policies include wellness coverage, under which the cost of the vaccination would be covered.
“People really should take advantage of this vaccination,” said Dr. Yin, who added that an education and awareness programme about the vaccine and about HPV would be run in the coming months. “The Cancer Society and the HSA, in the next few months, will be taking to parents at PTA meetings, we’ll be running health articles and encouraging people to get this vaccine,” she said
Although a HPV vaccine is available for boys, the vaccine in the schools will initially only be offered to girls.
The HPV vaccine protects against some strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. 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. The vaccine protects against two types of the viruses that cause cervical cancer and two types that cause genital warts.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, HPV is so common that at least 50 per cent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives, although most may never know it as it frequently has no symptoms.
The CDC reports that each year, about 12,000 women in the US get cervical cancer and almost all of these cancers are HPV-associated.