Victorian teens missing out on life-saving HPV vaccine

Wednesday 4 March, 2020

On International HPV Awareness Day, Cancer Council Victoria is urging all 12- and 13-year olds across Victoria to be immunised against cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), as research shows not all eligible teens are taking advantage of the free immunisation program.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, is provided free in schools to all Year 7 students under the National HPV Vaccination Program. This vaccine protects against nine types of HPV which cause approximately 90% of cervical cancers in women and 95% of all HPV-related cancers in men, including cancers of the penis, anus and mouth/throat.

Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that in Victoria, 1 in 4 boys and 1 in 5 girls were not fully immunised against HPV in 2015-16.

Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation Manager at Cancer Council Victoria Kate Broun, said while vaccination rates are in line with the national average, it is important that all eligible teens across Victoria participate in the HPV Vaccination Program.

“It is fantastic that lots of Victorian parents are choosing to protect their children, but there is still work to be done to ensure that all teens have the opportunity to complete the free vaccine course and protect themselves against cancer-causing HPV,” Ms Broun said.

“The vaccine is most effective when given at age 12-13. Two injections are needed, with the second dose at least 6 months after the first. We are urging parents to ensure their teen receives both doses for the best protection against cancer.”

Medical Director at VCS Foundation, Associate Professor Julia Brotherton, said the addition of Gardasil 9 to the program in 2018 has made it easier for teens to be fully immunised, with two doses required instead of the previous three.

“The new vaccine is even more effective, protecting against 9 HPV types, rather than the 4 HPV types of the previous vaccine. To achieve best protection, our teens need to have both required doses of the vaccine,” Associate Prof Brotherton said.

“We encourage young people to receive both doses of the vaccine through the school-based National HPV Vaccination Program, as this is the age when it will be most effective. If your child missed out in Year 7, speak to your local doctor. We are lucky to have free access to this World Health Organization-recommended vaccine up to the age of 19 years.”

Since the HPV vaccination program was introduced in 2007, there has been a 93% reduction in the two most serious HPV types(types 16 and 18), a 70% reduction in the incidence of precancerous cervical abnormalities in women under 20, 50% reduction in women 20-24 years and 20% reduction in women 25-29 years of age, and the near disappearance of genital warts. HPV-related cancer rates are expected to decline in the years to come.

For more information on the HPV Vaccination Program, visit the How, when and where is the vaccine given page at www.hpvvaccine.org.au, or call 13 11 20. To find out what to do if your child misses out on the HPV vaccine, visit the What if my child misses out page at www.hpvvaccine.org.au.