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HPV vaccine uptake in Year 8 and 9 pupils not back to pre-pandemic levels despite study confirming drop in cancer risk





The number of teenagers taking up the offer of an HPV vaccine has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels despite research confirming immunisation can cut the risk of cervical cancer by almost 90%.

Health officials say the vaccine programme, primarily delivered in schools, is not reaching as many Year 8 and 9 pupils when compared to the number of pupils given a jab before the coronavirus outbreak.

The HPV jab has been offered in schools since 2008. Image: Stock photo.
The HPV jab has been offered in schools since 2008. Image: Stock photo.

Human papillomavirus - or HPV - is a common condition that around eight in every 10 people will get at least once in their lifetime, often without any symptoms.

While HPV usually goes away without causing any long-term problems about 13 types of HPV - out of 100 different types of the virus - are linked to cell changes which can go on to cause cancer.

Since its introduction in 2008, the HPV immunisation programme has delivered millions of vaccines into the arms of teenagers who are offered their first dose in Year 8 and their second injection a minimum of six months later.

The numbers of teenagers who have taken up the offer of a jab in the last year is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels
The numbers of teenagers who have taken up the offer of a jab in the last year is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels

A 2021 study declared that cervical cancer rates were 87% lower in young women who had been eligible for HPV vaccination when they were aged 12 to 13 years, compared to similar young women born a few years earlier who had not been offered vaccination - confirming the programme's ongoing success.

But in the last year HPV vaccine coverage has decreased by 7% among Year 8 girls and 8.6% among Year 8 boys.

By Year 9 HPV vaccine coverage among girls to have had the required two doses of the vaccine currently stands at 67.3% which - while higher than the 60.2% coverage achieved between 2020 and 2021 in the midst of the pandemic - is a staggering 20% lower than the number immunised before 2020.

Lower pupil attendance rates during Covid-19 outbreaks in schools, reduced consent rates and reports of vaccine hesitancy are among the reasons being cited in a report by the UK Health Security Agency which has looked at the drop in interest.

During the pandemic drive-thru HPV jabs were trialled
During the pandemic drive-thru HPV jabs were trialled

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said: "The HPV vaccine is available for girls and boys in Year 8 and we encourage everyone eligible to take up this potentially life-saving vaccine when offered.

"In recent years we have seen vaccine coverage fall due to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many young people who missed out on their vaccinations have already been caught up, but more needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated."

Children and young people who think they have missed out on either one or both of their HPV vaccinations should contact either their school nurse, school immunisation team or GP surgery to arrange a catch-up appointment as they remain eligible to receive the vaccines until they reach their 25th birthday.

Children and teens to have no received one or even both jabs are being encouraged to make a catch-up appointment. Image: iStock.
Children and teens to have no received one or even both jabs are being encouraged to make a catch-up appointment. Image: iStock.

In addition to HPV vaccination, all women aged 25 and over in England are offered regular cervical screening which can detect early signs of disease.

Samantha Dixon, chief executive of charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is urging teens to take up the offer of a jab.

She said: "We have the evidence that shows the HPV vaccine is stopping young women from developing cervical cancer, and that’s an incredible thing. Around nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day in the UK and the vaccine is helping to change that. I’d urge anyone who is eligible to take up the offer.

"Whether you have been vaccinated or not, going for cervical screening remains important to help further reduce your risk of cervical cancer."



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