Vaccination against HPV is key in fight against cancers

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

Remember to vaccinate against some common cancers. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes some cancers in men and women, as well as genital warts. HPV causes almost all cervical cancers, and can also cause cancer of the penis, anus, throat, vulva and vagina.

Cervical cancer kills a great number of young women in SA. HPV vaccines build immunity against HPV by “teaching” the body to make antibodies against the virus. Because of this, people vaccinated against HPV have a much lower chance of getting HPV-related cancers in their lifetimes.

Two HPV vaccines are available for use in SA, and can be given to girls and boys aged nine to 26 years. In 2014, SA began an HPV vaccination programme, prioritising girls in a few school districts.

After the first phase, some districts reported that parents had not given permission for their children to be vaccinated. Some parents did not have enough knowledge about HPV as a cause of cancer, and about the HPV vaccine as a way to prevent diseases related to HPV.

Some parents had questions about vaccine safety. Some parents may have refused vaccination for their children after coming across untrue information. The HPV vaccines do not contain the virus itself. They are proven, over almost two decades, including in research in SA, to have a good safety profile.

They are shown to prevent HPV cancers very well. HPV vaccination is the opportunity to prevent some common cancers, especially those affecting women’s health in SA.

Dr VO Mokwena, Dr Y Khalawan PHRU Vaccines Research Centre, Soweto

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