For successful HPV vaccination, offer shots free and in schools, Hong Kong researchers say
- Coverage rate in city would surge to more than 80 per cent, Chinese University study shows
Chinese University research shows the key to a successful HPV vaccination programme is introducing a free, school-based scheme, which is expected to boost the coverage rate in Hong Kong to more than 80 per cent.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination protects against infection. Persistent infection from the virus through sexual contact can cause cervical cancer.
In 2016, cervical cancer was the ninth leading cause of cancer fatalities among women in Hong Kong, with 151 deaths recorded. And it accounted for 2.6 per cent of all cancer deaths among women in the city, according to the Department of Health.
The HPV Research and Education Consortium at Chinese University has piloted different vaccination models in schools locally since 2011.
With partial subsidy in the 2011 study, the uptake rate was 37 per cent, CUHK professor and study co-author Albert Lee said.
When the two-dose HPV vaccines were provided free of charge, covering 1,229 girls aged nine to 14 at eight schools, the uptake exceeded 80 per cent, a separate study in 2015 found.
“Conducted in collaboration with the Karen Leung Foundation, the school-based vaccination model, accompanied by information aimed at parents and girls, achieved a high uptake rate of over 80 per cent,” the group said, referring to an NGO, with the jabs provided free of charge under the foundation’s funding.
The findings have been published in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE.
“The overall vaccine uptake was 81.4 per cent for the first dose and 80.8 per cent for the second dose,” it added.
“The current study provides empirical data that supports the feasibility of a school-based HPV vaccination programme as a vaccine delivery model that can significantly improve uptake in Hong Kong.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in her policy address last month that all girls in primary school would be vaccinated against HPV. They will get their first shots in Primary Five starting from next September, with the second in Primary Six
As there has been no government HPV programme, no data exists on the vaccine uptake rate in the city.
Starting from next academic year, in September 2019, female Primary Five students will be given their first dose of the HPV vaccine at their schools. The second dose is to be given to the girls when they reach Primary Six in the following academic year.
Professor Paul Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of CUHK’s department of microbiology, said he hoped the government programme could boost uptake to at least 70 per cent “otherwise it will be a waste of money”.
“The current vaccine uptake remains low in Hong Kong with only about 7 to 10 per cent of schoolgirls reported vaccinated,” he noted.
Foundation executive director Katharina Reimer said the NGO had been advocating for a school-based HPV vaccination programme to boost the uptake rate.
“The key barriers that we found in the study were really about the financial burden as well as the educational part of the youngsters, adolescents and the parents,” Reimer explained. “There are wide misconceptions about HPV being sexually transmitted and concerns that vaccinated girls could become sexually active earlier.”
Lee said the government should be mindful of key issues that can influence the success of the HPV vaccination among schoolgirls.
Parents must be convinced that the vaccine is effective and safe, they must agree to the programme, and it should be accompanied with proper sex education, the professor said.
“School is an important setting not only for health information but also the improvement of health literacy for both students and parents to facilitate the uptake of preventive health services such as HPV vaccination.”