India’s first Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus vaccine (qHPV) to fight cervical cancer has received a nod from the DCGI for widespread use to protect our women vulnerable to contracting it. “According to research in the National Library of Medicine, globally 27 per cent of total cervical cancer cases are from India, which is home to 16-17 per cent of the world’s women population. Also, cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer among women. So, the vaccine is a huge shield,” says Dr Sarika Gupta, Senior Consultant, Oncology and Robotic Gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi
According to a December 2021 report in the Indian Journal of Gynaecologic Oncology, in India, cervical cancer accounted for 9.4 per cent of all cancers and 18.3 per cent (1,23,907) of new cases in 2020. Dr Gupta clarifies more questions
How does the vaccine prevent cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the cervix. It is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) of which there are about more than 100 variants. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV and the vaccine protects against two of the dominant cancer-causing strains, HPV 16 and 18. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually active women and men will be infected at some point in their lives, and some may be repeatedly infected. It takes 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with regular immune systems. It can take only five to 10 years in women with weakened immune systems, such as those with untreated HIV infection, the WHO adds.
Once infected, most women do not develop any symptoms, so they don’t know of the virus presence. In some cases, the body’s immunity prevents the virus from causing any harm. But in some individuals, the HPV survives and lies dormant for years and can over time trigger cervical cells to become cancerous. Long-term infection of the cervix with HPV can lead to cancer, causing a lump or swelling. If the cancer is malignant, it can also spread to other parts of the body. This risk of developing cervical cancer can be reduced through screening and receiving a vaccination against HPV.
What’s the efficacy of vaccines?
HPV vaccination can prevent more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers when given at the recommended age. It has been reported that the qHPV vaccine Cervavac has demonstrated a robust antibody response that is nearly 1,000 times higher than the baseline against all targeted HPV types and in all doses and age groups.
Which group of women should take it? Is there an ideal age?
The administration of vaccination to girls and women is best before they are exposed to the virus. I would say age those between the age group of 12 and 26 are considered ideal candidates for getting the vaccination.
What kind of awareness is needed for the vaccine drive?
HPV vaccination and regular cervical screening are the most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer. Parents/caregivers of children must be educated about HPV vaccination. We need to start early to reduce the risk of developing cancer considerably. It eliminates pre-cancerous conditions.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America’s public health agency, recommends that the first dose be routinely given at ages 11 to 12. The vaccination can be started as early as the age of nine according to it. In the UK, the age group between 12 and 13 is routinely offered the first HPV vaccination. The second dose is administered six to 24 months later by the National Health Service (NHS).