The Government urges anyone eligible for the HPV vaccine to get vaccinated, due to concerns that the vaccine’s success in reducing cervical cancer incidence could be eroded by suboptimal uptake

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The Government is urging anyone eligible for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to get vaccinated, as vaccination numbers are still lower than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 negatively impacted many national vaccination programmes in the UK, including the HPV vaccination programme. There are fears that the programme’s success in reducing cervical cancer incidence could now be eroded by suboptimal uptake.

Coverage statistics

The UKHSA’s latest HPV vaccine coverage statistics in England, for the 2020/2021 academic year, show that while HPV vaccine coverage in 2020/2021 has improved significantly from the low levels reported for the 2019/2020 academic year, it is still not back up to pre-pandemic levels.

The data shows that:

  • vaccine coverage for HPV dose one in Year 8 females was 76.7% and for Year 8 males was 71.0% in the 2020/2021 academic year
  • vaccine coverage for HPV dose one in Year 9 females was 81.8%, a 22.6% increase from the reported coverage of 59.2% for the same cohort when they were in Year 8 in the previous academic year
  • vaccine coverage for HPV dose one in Year 9 males was 77.3%, a 22.9% increase from the reported coverage of 54.4% for the same cohort when they were in Year 8 in the previous academic year.

Children and young people who missed out on their HPV vaccines are encouraged to contact their school nurse, school immunisation team, or GP practice to arrange a catch-up dose. They will remain eligible for HPV vaccination until their 25th birthday, the UKHSA said in a statement.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘The school-aged HPV immunisation programme was delivered throughout England despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many young people who missed out in the 2019/2020 academic year have already been caught up, but more work needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated. We urge everyone who is eligible to take up this potentially life-saving vaccine when offered.’

Dramatic reduction in cervical cancer

As recently reported in Medscape UK, a study in The Lancet has found a substantial reduction in cervical cancer and incidence of pre-cancerous cells (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) in young women following the introduction of the HPV immunisation programme in England in 2008. The reduction was most marked in those who received the vaccine at age 12 or 13 years, where cervical cancer was 87% lower compared to previous non-vaccinated generations. Overall, the study estimated the HPV programme has prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers.

This article was originally published on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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