Welcome back to our blog SHAKE Family! In the spirit of world immunisation week and at a time when the importance of vaccines has become all too apparent, we would like to discuss an important vaccine for the health of men and women globally - the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
There are a lot of misconceptions and false stories about vaccines and with vaccines being so important for our health, it’s important these misconceptions are cleared up.
The HPV Vaccine plays a major role in preventing cervical cancer and with cervical cancer being the fourth most common cancer amongst women, it's important.
Now the HPV vaccine is important for a variety of reasons and one major one, is its role in preventing cervical cancer. With cervical cancer being the fourth most common cancer amongst women, it's important we know more about how to prevent it. So today, we’re answering some important and frequently asked questions about the HPV vaccine!
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus
The first thing to tackle is what HPV actually is. HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection affecting both males and females.
There are more than 100 types of HPV of which at least 14 types can cause cancer. These 14 types are also known as the high-risk type. HPV can also cause genital warts.
Cancers related to high-risk HPV include:
Cancer of the penis
Some types of head and neck cancer
A person is at risk of contracting HPV even if they have only had sex with one person.
80% of sexually active men and women will be infected at some point in their lives and some may be repeatedly infected. A person is at risk of contracting HPV even if they have only had sex with one person.
It can be spread through:
Vaginal oral or anal sex
Any skin-to-skin contact with an infected person
Sharing sex toys
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV but there is still a lot you can do to keep HPV from affecting your health negatively. Arguably, one of the most important things you can do is GET VACCINATED AGAINST HPV!
To learn more about HPV, check out our information page on HPV.
What is the HPV vaccine and what are the benefits of it?
The vaccine is a series of three injections given over the course of 6 months There are three vaccines licensed for use in most countries around the world namely; Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. Both Cevarix and Gardasil are licensed for use in Nigeria, whilst Gardasil is used as part of the UK’s immunisation programme.
Vaccines may prevent 70% of cervical cancers
They prevent infection with HPV types 16 and 18. These are high-risk types of HPV that account for approximately 70% of cervical cancers and an even higher percentage of some of the other HPV-related cancers. Gardasil also prevents infection with HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts.
It is estimated that the vaccines may prevent 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, 60% of vaginal cancers, 40% of vulval cances and possibly some mouth cancers. Additionally, some can prevent genital warts.
With the recent COVID-19 crisis, you may have heard a bit about this thing called ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity basically refers to how vaccinating a large portion of the population may also benefit the unvaccinated. Studies are showing this may actually be true for the HPV vaccine too!
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
It's recommended girls and boys get the vaccine around the ages of 11 and 12
All people aged 9 to 45 can get the vaccine to protect against some HPV-related cancers and/or genital warts.
Current recommendations say girls and boys should start the vaccine series at around the ages of 11 or 12 to enable them to be fully protected before they become sexually active
Regardless of your age, speak with your doctor or nurse and find out more about the HPV vaccine and whether it is suitable for you.
Do not get vaccinated if you are:
Currently pregnant - HPV vaccination should be delayed until after pregnancy, but pregnancy testing is not required before vaccination. There is no evidence that vaccination will affect pregnancy or harm a fetus.
If you’ve had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the HPV vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine.
Is the vaccine effective?
Yes. HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection with the types of HPV they target.
In the trials that led to the approval of Gardasil and Cervarix, these vaccines were found to provide nearly 100% protection against persistent cervical infections with HPV types 16 and 18 and the cervical cell changes that these persistent infections can cause.
To fully benefit from the vaccine, it’s essential to receive all injections.
Are there any side effects?
As mentioned above, research shows that the vaccine is safe.
The most common side effects experienced are temporary pain, redness or swelling around the injection site.
Where can I get the HPV Vaccine?
The various kinds of HPV vaccines can be obtained from clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. Please ask a healthcare professional for further details.
NB: Vaccination should not be used as a substitute for cervical cancer screening. This vaccine does not protect against all HPV types that can cause cervical cancer. Women should still get regular cervical smear (pap) tests. To learn more about the cervical smear, click here to read our blog on smear tests.
I hope that has cleared a few things up for you!
Thanks for reading!
Stephanie, is a sexual and reproductive health enthusiast and programme intern at SHAKE Africa.