Boost cancer vaccine for girls, consider boys too - Experts
Dr Wendel Guthrie (l to r), gynaecologist, listens as Margaret Johnson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences with Yulit Gordon, executive director, Jamaica Cancer Society and Dr Dana Morris Dixon (centre), chief marketing and business development officer at The Jamaica National Group.
The government programme to vaccinate young girls against cervical cancer needs to be reinforced with a vigorous educational campaign, says Yulit Gordon, executive director at the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS).
Only four out of 10 girls are currently getting the first dose of the vaccine, with far less getting the second dose which is necessary to make the vaccination effective, Gordon said.
One cancer expert has also pointed to the value of having boys vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV).
“The JCS commends the government for establishing the national HPV vaccination programme for our young girls,” Gordon stated. “If we can get up to 80 per cent of our young girls vaccinated, then the fight against cervical cancer is going to be significantly strengthened in years to come,”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States of America (USA) estimates that 80 per cent of the public will get an HPV infection in their lifetime, and experts recommend that the HPV vaccine be given to children aged 11 to 12, as their bodies will give them a better immune response at that age.
“While we are vaccinating our young girls, it is important that we educate all our girls and boys because boys are also carriers of the virus,” Gordon stated. She was speaking at the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Relay for Life 2019 fundraiser, at the University of Technology, Jamaica earlier this month.
Dr Wendel Guthrie, gynaecologist and member of the JCS board, explained: “Ideally, both boys and girls should be immunised against HPV, as both can get the virus; and both can get cancers from it. The reason for choosing to immunise girls is that 80 per cent of HPV-related cancers are cervical cancers affecting women later in life.”
Dr Guthrie pointed to the example of Australia, which expects to eliminate cervical cancer, and has a programme to inoculate both boys and girls. He said that men can get throat cancer, penile cancer and anal cancer from HPV.
“If we ensure that the majority are immunised, then we will achieve a decrease in the incidence of the disease,” the gynaecologist stated.
Dr Dana Morris Dixon, chief marketing and business development officer at The Jamaica National Group, explained: “Scientific studies have shown that HPV is linked to cervical cancer; therefore the move to provide the vaccine to girls is the right one.
“We have a high incidence of cancer in our country and anything we can do to protect ourselves is valuable. Someone close to me recently passed away from cervical cancer, so I am very aware of the disease from personal experience.
“Where there is not sufficient information about an issue, you will have alternative narratives emerging, which are not as firmly based in science. That is why I believe we need to have the right dialogue around this problem.”
Margaret Johnson, a cancer survivor, supported that view, declaring: “There needs to be greater awareness about the issue to assist girls to appreciate the benefits of inoculation.”
Explaining that she discussed the HPV vaccination with her daughters, Johnson added: “Girls need to know more about the inoculation if they are to take it. They need also to be encouraged to research the issue to get information for themselves.”
Thousands attended the annual JCS event, which involved teams of walkers and runners competing against each other to raise the most money and to stay all night at the vigil.