What You May Not Know About The HPV Vaccine
Research and Innovations The 10th anniversary of the HPV vaccine in Canada.
Looking back at the last 10 years since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, it’s clear there’s cause for Canadian men and women to celebrate. Cervical cancer and several diseases caused by the human papillomavirus have significantly decreased (although others, including some head and neck cancers, are still trending upwards). And now a large body of research and scientific data gathered from a decade of use has underscored the vaccine’s efficacy and safety.
For Dr. Jennifer Blake, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, marking the anniversary of the HPV vaccine’s arrival in this country is an opportune time to review all that has been accomplished.
“It has been the single greatest event in women’s health I’ve ever seen,” she says. “People are seriously talking now about the possibility of completely eradicating cervical cancer within decades. The more we vaccinate, the harder it will be to encounter someone in the population with the virus and the less chance it will infect someone and lead to cervical cancer. We will reach a tipping point and be able to end this potentially lethal disease.”
In the past, some women were hesitant about getting the vaccine. In their minds, it was too new, too unproven. They preferred to wait until they could see the facts. Canadian and international researchers have amassed an impressive body of scientific data that paint a clear picture of the HPV vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
“We’re seeing reduced rates of HPV-related diseases in vaccinated young women. We never expected to see this magnitude of impact so quickly after the vaccine’s introduction.”
– Dr. Jennifer Blake
“We have the evidence,” says Dr. Blake. “We’re seeing reduced rates of HPV-related diseases in vaccinated young women. We never expected to see this magnitude of impact so quickly after the vaccine’s introduction.” And, the research findings across Canada are consistent. The vaccine is working.
In Québec, the number of genital wart cases among vaccinated women has decreased by 45 percent. In Alberta, where the entire population was studied, teenagers showing abnormal Pap results have declined by 50 percent. In B.C., the rate was six in 100,000 women, and now it has dropped down to just one. “The data is clear,” she says.
There have also been advances with the HPV vaccine itself. Previous versions protected against four common HPV strains. The latest version introduced last year addresses nine. That means expanded protection against HPV-related diseases.
Though Canadian Cancer Society figures show that a Canadian woman dies every day from cervical cancer, HPV vaccinations are not just a female issue. Men can play a key role, since they can infect their sexual partners and are subject also to HPV cancers (head and neck, penile, and anal) at alarmingly increasing rates. It’s recommended they get vaccinated between the ages of 9 and 26. For women, it’s 9 to 45. And the earlier the better.
The last 10 years have shown that there is still a need for more awareness about the HPV vaccine’s role in protecting the long-term health of Canadians. It is the impetus behind the annual Prevention and Awareness Program (PAP) Campaign, created by the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, taking place this year Oct. 17–21, as part of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week.
Campaign Chair and Board member Dr. Pamela Liao advocates strongly for screening, education, and awareness. “Clinics across the country will be available to anyone who wants to learn more about their risk profile and to connect with health care providers who can arrange pre-screenings to identify cancerous lesions,” she explains. “Cervical cancer is curable if caught early. We all have an active part in stopping men and women from dying due to HPV-related diseases. Tell a friend and get the conversation started.”
That’s sage advice for everyone as we mark the 10-year anniversary of the HPV vaccine’s introduction. It’s a chance to glimpse into the future to a time when HPV-related diseases are eradicated once and for all.