HPV vaccine for Sec 1 girls to protect against cervical cancer, but is it safe?

March 19, 2019
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    From April 2019, 13-year-old girls in national schools can get vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, for free. The opt-in vaccination, which will be done in school, will be offered to all girls attending Secondary 1, or the equivalent.

    Girls currently in Secondary 2 to 5 will also be eligible for the vaccination as a one-time catch-up measure.

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    Experts say the vaccine can protect against cervical cancer, a preventable disease and one of the top women’s cancers here. Almost 200 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed yearly in Singapore.

    Still, some parents have expressed concerns about vaccinating their daughters, such as its potential side effects and safety. Here, Dr Joseph Ng, president of the Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology of Singapore, shares more on HPV infections and how the vaccination works.

    (Photo: The New Paper)

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  • What is HPV?
    3 / 11 What is HPV?

    The virus is typically transmitted through sexual activity, and rarely, during delivery from an infected mum to her baby. By the age of 50, four in five women will have been infected with this virus during their lives, says Dr Ng.

    Related: What parents should know about the free HPV vaccine to protect Sec 1 girls against cervical cancer

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  • HPV and cervical cancer: What’s the link?
    4 / 11 HPV and cervical cancer: What’s the link?

    HPV infection causes more than 99 per cent cases of cervical cancer. According to Dr Ng, most of these infections are cleared by the body naturally. However, persistent HPV infections can cause abnormal cervical cells to grow over time, resulting in cervical cancer in women.

    There are over 100 different types of HPV strains, but only 14 high-risk types may lead to cancer. Some of the low-risk types can cause genital warts.

    (Photo: Facebook/Singapore Cancer Society)

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  • Who is the HPV vaccine recommended for?
    5 / 11 Who is the HPV vaccine recommended for?

    The HPV vaccines are recommended for girls aged nine to 26 years old and are most effective before they are exposed to the virus (usually via sexual contact). However, women who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine as they may not be exposed to the types of HPV covered by the vaccine, according to HealthHub.sg by the Ministry of Health and Health Promotion Board.

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  •  Is HPV vaccine safe?
    6 / 11 Is HPV vaccine safe?

    The vaccine consists of viral-like particles – these are components of the HPV virus, and not the virus itself, says Dr Ng.

    According to the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines went through years of extensive safety testing before they were licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure they were safe.

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  • Any side effects to HPV vaccine?
    7 / 11 Any side effects to HPV vaccine?

    There are misconceptions that the vaccine can cause infertility and complex neurological syndromes, says Dr Ng.

    HPV vaccination is typically not associated with any serious side effects. But like any vaccine or medicine, they may cause side effects, the most common being pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, as well as dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache, according to the CDC.

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  • Why introduce a national HPV vaccination programme?
    8 / 11 Why introduce a national HPV vaccination programme?

    Worldwide, more than 80 countries have adopted national HPV vaccination programmes, shares Dr Ng.

    In countries like Australia, systematic vaccination starting with girls in a national schools vaccination programme has shown to be effective in reducing incidence of cervical cancer and HPV-related health conditions, says Dr Ng.

    According to him, Australia was the first country to adopt this type of vaccination programme and will likely be the first in the world to be cervical cancer-free.

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  • How is the HPV vaccine given?
    9 / 11 How is the HPV vaccine given?

    The vaccine is given in 0.5ml doses, says Dr Ng. If your daughter is aged nine to 14, she will be given two doses, six months apart. Those aged 15 to 26 years old should receive three doses in a span of six months, Dr Ng adds.

    Your child will not require booster shots. “We believe that this single vaccination series confers lifelong immunity,” says Dr Ng.

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  • Will my daughter be cervical cancer-free after vaccination?
    10 / 11 Will my daughter be cervical cancer-free after vaccination?

    When given in the recommended manner, the vaccine provides up to 70 per cent protection against cervical cancer, says Dr Ng.

    Girls who have had the vaccine will still need to go for regular testing as the vaccine does not protect against all the strains.

    Related: “Mummy, don’t cry”: How son saved inspiring Singapore mum from depression

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  • What if I don’t want my daughter to be vaccinated?
    11 / 11 What if I don’t want my daughter to be vaccinated?

    This is opt-in scheme, and parents will have to give consent.

    Dr Ng strongly recommends the vaccination. “As a women’s cancer specialist,  I would strong recommend vaccination as a reasonable, safe and effective way to protect against HPV-related cancers. They are much more common than liver cancer against which we vaccinate our children routinely using the Hepatitis B vaccine,” he says.

    (Photos: 123RF.com unless otherwise indicated)

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