Thousands of Victorian teens miss out on HPV shots

Friday 4 March, 2022

The number of Victorian teens completing the two-dose HPV vaccination schedule within a calendar year was 16.6 per cent lower in 2020 than in 2019

Victorian teenagers are being encouraged to catch-up on their scheduled human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations, with thousands missing out on the vaccine in the last two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Most recent statistics from the NCIRS Annual Immunisation Coverage Report 2020 show that the proportion of Australian adolescents completing the two-dose HPV vaccination schedule within a calendar year was 11.6 per cent lower in 2020 than in 2019.

However, declines in Victoria were greater than any other state or territory with the number of Victorian teens completing the two-dose HPV vaccination schedule within a calendar year being 16.6 per cent lower in 2020 than in 2019, a five per cent greater reduction than the national result.

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given around the ages of 12 to 13. If given at this age, two doses are needed, with the second dose administered at least 6 months after the first.

Lynbrook mother Katrina McGowan is just one Victorian parent who is now ensuring her children are up to date with their HPV vaccinations.

Mrs McGowan’s son Flynn was in Year 7 in 2020 and missed out on getting his HPV vaccinations due to school shutdowns caused by COVID-19.

“I signed his consent form back in 2019 and he was booked in for an HPV dose in March 2020. But then lockdowns and home-schooling happened, so he missed out,” she said.

“I was only reminded about the HPV vaccine when my son Cooper, who is in Year 7 this year, was sent an HPV vaccination consent form during school orientation.”

Both Flynn and Cooper have now had their first HPV vaccination and are booked in for their second dose.

“It's important to me that my children are fully vaccinated for everything, including HPV, for not only their own safety, but other people’s safety too,” she said.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Head of Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation Kate Broun said the HPV vaccine was provided free as part of the secondary school-based immunisation program, usually when children were in Year 7.

“The impacts of COVID-19 have seen many children miss attendance at school over the last two years and parents may not have realised their child is yet to complete their HPV vaccination schedule,” Ms Broun said.

“Coupled with the ongoing effects of a large number of people infected with COVID-19 and/or in quarantine, we anticipate that more eligible children will miss HPV doses this year.

“Unfortunately, other medical issues don’t stop because of COVID-19. During what is already a difficult time, it is incredibly important that people look after their own health and the health of their loved ones.

“While HPV might not seem like a priority now, COVID-19 should not prevent us from taking the best possible care of our children and protecting their future.”

March 4 is International  HPV Awareness  Day, which aims to increase public awareness about the importance of prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of HPV-related diseases such as cancer.

Ms Broun said the HPV vaccine’s benefits were long-lasting.

“The HPV vaccine protects against nine types of HPV that cause approximately 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women and 95 per cent of all HPV-related cancers in men, as well as genital warts. Since the HPV vaccination program began in 2007, there has been a significant reduction in the incidence of cervical abnormalities in younger women and the near disappearance of genital warts,” she said.

The Member for Cranbourne and Women’s Health Ambassador Pauline Richards said it was important parents check their teenager’s HPV immunisation status.

“If you have teenagers in years 7 to 10 who have missed out on the HPV vaccine you can organise catch up doses with your GP or local council immunisation service,” she said.

“If you’re unsure if you or your child has missed a dose, you can check immunisation status at the myGov website or app, or their Medicare online account through myGov or the Medicare mobile app.”

Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, encouraged all teenagers to catch-up on the vital vaccine.

“If you’re worried about the impact of COVID-19 vaccinations with the HPV vaccine, the good news is that there is no minimal time requirement between them and it’s safe to give both around the same time,” he said.

For more information about HPV vaccination, visit www.hpvvaccine.org.au