Hong Kong government urged to introduce cervical cancer vaccination programme for all girls
Cervical cancer cases in Hong Kong may be cut by up to 90 per cent if the government launched a vaccination programme to protect all girls against a virus spread through sex, a top medical expert told the Post in Singapore.
The city faces a total of 200 deaths and 500 cases a year mainly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but the rate of vaccination stands at just 10 per cent, in contrast to 70 per cent in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
University of Hong Kong professor Hextan Ngan Yuen-sheung also suggested on Monday extending the programme to all boys, as recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But there has been no progress in providing universal protection to girls in Hong Kong since 2013 when an expert panel advised the government to further review the feasibility of adding the HPV vaccine to its regular vaccination programme – a move already undertaken by about 50 countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced in January a three-year pilot scheme funded by the Community Care Fund to offer free jabs to girls from low-income families. It will start in the fourth quarter.
The vaccine was recently suspected of causing adverse side effects, ranging from memory loss to paralysis, among girls in Japan. The government and the vaccine makers are facing legal action.
Ngan, HKU’s head of obstetrics and gynaecology, said there had been insufficient research into whether the vaccine was to blame, and the government should begin a long-delayed HPV vaccination programme as soon as possible.
“The vaccine is by far the most effective means to prevent cervical cancer,” Ngan said after attending a conference held by the Asia-Oceania Research Organisation in Genital Infection and Neoplasia. “The cost of the vaccine will be worthwhile as it can save lives.”
HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses that can be passed easily through skin-to-skin contact.
The viruses are blamed for causing more than 99 per cent of cervical cancers – the seventh most common form of cancer among local women in 2013.
An earlier Chinese University study found that one in five patients in the city with throat cancer – most of them male – suffered from HPV, which was probably spread through oral sex.
Ngan said a four-valent HPV vaccination for girls would cut the number of cervical cancer cases by 70 per cent and a new nine-valent vaccine, which offers protection against nine types of common cancer-causing viruses, could reduce cases by 90 per cent.
The government should put forward a school-based model, she said, as the vaccine was most effective when administered before girls became sexually active.
Without a subsidy, a three-dose vaccination at a private clinic costs about HK$3,000.
The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for males to prevent HPV-related cancers affecting the throat, anus and penis. It also says the vaccination of boys aged 11 or 12 would benefit girls by reducing the spread of the disease.
A Department of Health spokesman said an economic evaluation of HPV vaccinations was being carried out, and an expert panel would be notified of results in due course.
The department said it was aware of the situation in Japan, but health experts had found insufficient scientific evidence to link the vaccine with the reported defects. However, it said it would remain vigilant.