Decrease in HPV vaccine coverage in secondary school pupils

Concern has been raised over the decrease in HPV vaccine coverage among secondary school pupils, as Cervical Cancer Prevention Week started on Monday.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging young people to catch up on any missed HPV vaccines.

The latest UKHSA report on the routine adolescent human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme for 2021 to 2022 shows that coverage in year 8 and year 9 pupils has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

HPV vaccine coverage decreased by 7 per cent in year 8 girls and 8.7 per cent in year 8 boys in 2021 to 2022 when compared to the previous academic year. The HPV vaccine is offered to all 12 to 13 year olds in years 8 and 9.

The programme in England has been shown to have dramatically lowered rates of harmful infections and cervical cancer in vaccinated women and also protects against genital warts and other cancers of the genital areas and anus, as well as some cancers of the head and neck.

A study published in The Lancet in 2021 found that cervical cancer rates were 87 per cent lower in young women who had been eligible for HPV vaccination when they were aged 12 to 13 years, compared to similar young women born a few years earlier who had not been offered vaccination.

The same study estimated that the HPV programme had prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers up to mid-2019.

UKHSA is urging parents and guardians to ensure eligible young people are up to date with their HPV vaccine before they leave school.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "The HPV vaccine is available for girls and boys in year 8 and we encourage everyone eligible to take up this potentially life-saving vaccine when offered. In recent years we have seen vaccine coverage fall due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many young people who missed out on their vaccinations have already been caught up, but more needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated.

"Children and young people who have missed out on their HPV vaccinations should contact their school nurse, school immunisation team or GP surgery to arrange a catch-up – they remain eligible until their 25th birthday."

Image by Angelo Esslinger from Pixabay

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