Pauline MacDonald on the essential introduction of the UK's most expensive vaccine
This year will see the introduction of the most remarkable vaccine into the national immunisation schedule for many years, perhaps the most unusual ever. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is unusual in many ways.
It will be the most expensive vaccine in the UK immunisation programme; costing approximately £80 per dose, and recipients will need three doses to be protected. In trials it has been found to be one of the most effective vaccines ever developed.
It is the first vaccine developed with the specific aim of preventing cancer; cervical cancer. Oncogenic HPV types are found in over 90% of all cervical cancersThe vaccines will protect against the oncogenic types 16 and 18 which are the cause of 70% of cervical cancers, consequently there is potential to save up to 400 women’s lives in UK each year.
The benefits of this massive and costly immunisation programme may not be evident for many years to come. The youngest girls vaccinated will not be in their twenties for 8 -10 years and cervical cancer is rarely seen in women under the age of twenty.
There are many challenges to implementing this innovative, exciting programme. The cohort due to receive the vaccine are young women, the youngest being 12-13 year olds. The vaccine is inevitably linked to the sensitive issue of sexual activity. HPV in the genital area is spread through sexual contact, although sexual intercourse is not necessary for transmission, and the virus can spread via hands and skin contact.
There have been concerns expressed about introducing this vaccine in such a young and largely sexually naive group. However some who work in the field of teenage pregnancy may say 12 is too late; some girls may already be sexually active and infected with HPV before they can benefit from the vaccine.
Delivering this vaccine to girls in the target age groups, particularly those no longer at school, will be a challenge. But healthcare professionals should rise to that challenge and relish their involvement in the beginnings of a wonderful opportunity to prevent over 2,000 cases and 400 deaths from cervical cancer each year.
The message to girls, young women, parents and guardians should be that this vaccine prevents horrible, debilitating and deadly cervical cancer.
Pauline MacDonald is Nurse Consultant Communicable Disease for Dudley Primary Care Trust and also runs her own business, Infection Matters Limited. As an Independent Consultant Nurse she provides, consultancy, service development expertise, advice, education, and audit in all areas of Infection prevention and Immunisation service delivery. Additionally she can provide clinical supervision and mentorship for staff in the fields of Infection Prevention and Control and Immunisation. Pauline is a member of the Joint Committee for Immunisation and Vaccination and is deputy editor for the British Journal of Infection Control. She has published and presented nationally and internationally. Pauline can be contacted at email@example.com