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‘We should welcome the HPV vaccination scheme’

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Cervical cancer is a devastating disease. It is estimated that, in the UK, up to 1,000 women lose their lives to it annually. Next month, the vaccination programme for girls between the ages of 12 and 13 against human papillomavirus (HPV) will be rolled out.

And with only a few weeks’ warning, it appears that all young women between the ages of 17 and 18 should now receive the vaccine from next month too.

Two types of HPV – 16 and 18 – are implicated in 70% of cases of pre-malignant and malignant changes to the cervix. In addition, types 6 and 11 cause genital warts. The Department of Health had to decide whether the vaccine should cover against two or four types of HPV and, on the basis of ‘scientific qualities and cost-effectiveness’, the two-type protection won the day.

I do hold some sympathy for health professionals who feel that a golden primary prevention opportunity has been missed. But top-level decisions do not always hinge on what health professionals want. Instead of carping, all nurses and parents of teenage girls should breathe a sigh of relief that the programme is going ahead.

Thankfully, the vaccination programme, which involves administering three jabs over six months, will not bring an end to the cervical screening programme. Arguably, the greatest threat to this is likely to be the burnout of overworked cytologists.

How much will the vaccination scheme cost? According to the DH, an average PCT will receive around £66,000. This will need to cover school nurse time, travel and expertise, managing the control and storage of the vaccine, exploring issues regarding consent, and reporting adverse drug reactions. Then there’s the hidden cost, which boils down to the fact that a school nurse cannot be in two places at once.

I dread to think what might happen to a vulnerable young person who relies on their school nurse for support if she is busy vaccinating hundreds of girls.

Some parents believe the vaccine will encourage promiscuity. This should be challenged. But what happens if there is a conflict between parent and daughter regarding vaccination? Guidelines suggest the young person’s views should override parental wishes.

The campaign’s promotion has begun and I hope the pitch is less like the Aids ‘iceberg’ adverts and more like a number from High School Musical. Let’s get Sharpay and friends singing about the cervix. Truly unmissable.

Jane Warner is a practice nurse in Devon

Want to read more of Jane Warner’s opinions? Just click on the 'more by this author' link at the top of the page.

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