A vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer will be available for school girls beginning November.
Minister of Health Mark Scotland announced on Friday that the Human Papillomavirus vaccine, commonly known as HPV, will be included in the childhood immunisation programme in the Cayman Islands.
“It will be a phased programme initially held at the Public Health Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, West Bay and Bodden Town health centres, Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac and all government high schools throughout the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Scotland said.
The Gardasil vaccinations, which will be provided free of charge, are not mandatory.
Dr. Sook Yin, medical director of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, said: “The Cancer Society is pleased to partner with the Ministry of Health to expand the HPV vaccination programme. I am elated that we can now move forward with the school-based aspect of the HPV immunisation, making the programme convenient for both students and parents.”
The minister encouraged young women and their parents or guardians to take advantage of the vaccination.
The vaccine will initially only be available to girls. In some countries, the vaccination is offered to boys as well, as they can carry the virus and pass it to their sexual partners.
HPV causes cancer of the cervix, genital warts and some pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix, vagina and vulva. The vaccine is of greatest benefit if it is administered before the onset of sexual activity; hence the target age group is 11 to 12 year old students. At this age, the antibody response to the vaccine is optimal. However, the vaccine will also be available to young women between the ages of 11 and 17 years at the various Health Services Authority facilities.
The HPV vaccine is given as a course of three injections administered at set intervals over six months and will be offered on a first come, first serve basis, while supplies last.
Parents or guardians must attend the appointment with their children at the clinics and give written consent for the vaccine to be administered.
A pilot programme was held in 2009 and 2010.
Minister of Education Rolston Anglin welcomed the initiative of a school-based HPV vaccination programme at Clifton Hunter and John Gray high schools and assured parents and guardians that “no child will be vaccinated without parental consent and you will have the opportunity to be present at the time of vaccination if you choose”.
He added, “I commend the Public Health staff, Cancer Society, and school principals for making this a reality.”
While initially, it is offered to girls in the government high schools, children between the ages of 11 and 17 from private schools can get their HPV vaccination at the listed Health Services Authority facilities. The vaccination schedules will be announced later.
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society and the Public Health Department will undertake a public awareness campaign about cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine by doing media interviews, advertisements, public education presentations in schools, including Home School Associations and specially organised district awareness sessions. Leaflets will also be available at these sessions as well as the Cayman Islands Cancer Society on Maple Road, all Health Services Authority facilities, doctor’s offices and libraries.
Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Of the four major types of HPV – 6, 11, 16, and 18 – two types cause about 70 per cent of cervical cancer and two types cause about 90 per cent of genital warts. The Gardasil vaccine protects against these four types.
The United States Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for use among females ages 9 to 26 years.
However, because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, women should continue to have regular Pap tests if they have been vaccinated. The vaccine does not prevent 30 per cent of cervical cancers.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. More than 50 per cent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know. It is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s.