Schoolgirls to be vaccinated against HPV, in Hong Kong’s fight against cervical cancer
City leader Carrie Lam announces immunisation programme, as well as ban on e-cigarettes and other health policies
Girls in primary school will be vaccinated against HPV in a bid to protect them from cervical cancer, Hong Kong’s leader announced on Wednesday morning.
The citywide scheme was among a series of health care initiatives announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address.
Lam also announced public hospitals would allow parents who miscarry to claim the foetus for burial or cremation, even those less than 24 weeks gestated. Currently they are disposed of as medical waste.
And, in a U-turn, she said she would ban e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products, such as heat-not-burn products and herbal cigarettes.
“Health care services are livelihood issues of the greatest public concern, just after housing,” Lam said in a speech to the Legislative Council.
“We will continue to improve our health care system and services, including strengthening primary health care services and formally recognising Chinese medicine as part of Hong Kong’s health care development.”
The new vaccination scheme will cover all schoolgirls in Primary Five and Primary Six, when the girls are aged about nine to 11. It is to protect them against HPV – the human papillomavirus – which causes cervical cancer, the seventh most common cancer among local women in 2015. That year, there were 500 new cervical cancer cases, and 169 people died of the disease.
A government source said the Department of Health would administer the vaccinations at school, as it does other shots.
Professor Hextan Ngan Yuen-sheung, head of the University of Hong Kong’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology, supported the move. She said the efficacy of the vaccine could get close to 100 per cent.
“It is anticipated that 70 to 90 per cent of cervical cancer can be prevented, depending on the type of vaccines,” she said, citing data from countries which routinely vaccinate.
US drug company Merck, known as MSD outside America and the only supplier of the Gardasil 9 vaccine, said it welcomed the government’s commitment “to ensuring that the HPV vaccine will be made more widely available to teenage girls”.
“We believe this critical step of establishing the first HPV immunisation programme will serve as an important foundation in the prevention of HPV-related disease in Hong Kong,” a spokeswoman said.
The drug company promised that, though there was a shortage of the vaccine Gardasil 9 in Hong Kong in recent months, continuity of supply of its medicine “has always been and remains one of our highest priorities”.
On breast cancer, Lam said officials would await the outcome of a government-commissioned study to be completed in the second half of 2019, before deciding on “the type of screening to be adopted for women of different risk profiles”.
Ngan said many countries had increasing incidences of breast cancer and had brought in regular screening for women. She urged the government to follow suit.
The Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation said it was “disappointed” the government had not set out concrete plans for population-wide breast cancer screening in Hong Kong.
But it noted the government would review what type of screening was to be adopted for women of different risk profiles.
“We hope this means that screening for average risk women will be studied and addressed, given that 90 per cent and more new breast cancer cases (about 4,000) each year are related to average, not high, risk women,” it said.