All Secondary 1 girls in Singapore’s national schools will be offered free HPV vaccination from April 2019 to protect them against cervical cancer. This includes girls in madrasahs.
Here’s what parents need to know about the new HPV cervical cancer vaccine programme.
What is cervical cancer?
About 200 women get cervical cancer each year and 70 die from it, said Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor in Parliament on March 6.
She said: “This cancer, which is caused by infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), can be prevented with vaccination and screening.”
How the vaccine works
HPV is generally transmitted during sex. The HPV vaccine is recommended before women become sexually active.
The vaccine protects women against common HPV strains which primarily causes cervical cancer, but can also cause vulva, vaginal and anal cancers.
The first dose will be given in Secondary 1 and the second dose the following year. A third dose will be given to older students. The vaccination will be done in school.
Offer will extend to all secondary school girls later
This is an opt-in scheme.
As a one time catch-up, the offer will be progressively extended to all girls currently studying in Secondary school.
Those of similar age studying in private education institutes will also be offered the free HPV vaccination, if they are Singapore residents.
More than 70 countries, including Brunei and Malaysia have included the HPV vaccine in their national immunisation programme.
Which vaccine was chosen
The MOH told The Straits Times that Cervarix was selected based on factors such as efficacy, price and stock availability.
Its spokesman added: “MOH is evaluating Gardasil 9 to compare it to the other two HPV vaccines. If found to be cost-effective in the local setting compared to Cervarix or Gardasil, MOH will consider offering Gardasil 9 under the school-based programme in the future.”
Gardasil 9, the only HPV vaccine used in the United States, protects against nine strains that account for 90 per cent of cervical cancers.
Girls who are 14 years and younger need two doses of the vaccine while those who are 15 years and older require three doses.
How much the vaccine normally costs
Depending on the vaccine used and the age of the person, cost ranges from about $300 to more than $700 for the full course of two or three doses.
Up to $400 from Medisave can be used for two of the HPV vaccines, for females between the ages of nine and 26 years.
Why your daughter will still need Pap smear tests as an adult
Women who have had the vaccine will still need to go for regular Pap smear tests to check for cervical cancers, since the vaccine does not protect against all strains.
The ministry also announced that it will be adopting a more accurate cervical cancer test which will allow women to test every five years, instead of every three years.
“The better test will cost more, but the Government will provide more subsidies, so the cost to women will be the same in the long run,” said Dr Khor.
This is part of the MOH’s move to increase disease prevention so as to reduce the strain on healthcare services down the line.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.