Australia to Ramp Up Vaccination of Schoolchildren Against HPV

The plan involves extending the program to include boys.
Australia to Ramp Up Vaccination of Schoolchildren Against HPV
School children at The Domain in Sydney, Australia, on April 2, 2014. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)
Jessie Zhang

Australia’s Labor government has set the ambitious goal of becoming the first in the world to eliminate cervical cancer by 2028, seven years ahead of schedule, by intensifying the rollout of the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, and cervical screening rates.

Medical professionals regard HPV as a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts, cellular changes, and cancer.

Believed to be a significant precursor to cervical cancer, they advocate the HPV vaccine as pivotal in preventing the disease.

That said, HPV infections are a prevalent occurrence in women, with most women acquiring it at some point during their lifetime. Most people’s immune systems will clear an HPV infection without it developing into cancer.

However, some types of HPV are persistent and may transform into precancerous cells, which is why screening is recommended.

The Australian government has invested $48.2 million (US$31.6 million) to expedite eradication efforts.

Currently, 90 percent of girls are targeted for the HPV vaccination before they turn 15, with the program now extended to include boys, aiming to reduce the risk of genital warts and precancerous lesions caused by HPV.

Further, people aged 25 to 74 will be targeted for screening every five years as opposed to just twice in their lifetime.

Given that the HPV vaccine does not provide foolproof protection against all HPV types, a cervical screening test is advised every five years, even for those vaccinated against HPV.

Australia’s Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney expressed the significance of the commitment, stating, “Australia has always punched above its weight when it comes to cervical cancer, and now Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to eliminate this deadly disease.”

“The enormity of this announcement cannot be understated.

“Australia’s National Cervical screening program and HPV vaccination program have put us on track to be the first country in the world to reach this landmark.”

Studies Uncover a Link

Recent studies suggest that the overall level of protection conferred by the HPV vaccine is estimated to be around 60 percent, and up to 88 percent for younger girls.

However, infectious disease specialist Dr. Yuhong Dong raised questions about the reliability of claims being made for the HPV vaccines.

A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Florida on Sept. 21, 2011. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Florida on Sept. 21, 2011. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
“First of all, due to the long lead time from HPV infection to the development of cervical cancer (typically 20 years), conducting a randomised controlled long-term HPV vaccine study is a major challenge,” she said in an exclusive Epoch Times series on the HPV vaccine.

“The claims being made for the HPV vaccines are typically based on observational or registry studies.”

Notably, multinational studies on cervical cancer have revealed a strong and consistent link between a woman’s age at first sexual activity and an elevated risk of cervical cancer.

Engaging in sex for the first time on or before age 16 or between 17 to 20 years of age increased the risk of developing invasive cervical cancer by 2.3 and 1.8 times, respectively, compared with women over age 21.

(Illustration by The Epoch Times)
(Illustration by The Epoch Times)

Oral contraceptives have also been found to considerably increase the relative risk of cervical cancer.

She said that many studies do not account for these salient factors, undermining the validity of their conclusions.

“While some studies may have attempted to account for factors such as age at first sexual activity or age at first pregnancy, monitoring and controlling the number of sexual partners during a long-term HPV vaccine study can be challenging,” she said.

This would require close monitoring of study subjects and their sexual behaviours over an extended period of time.

“It is also worth noting that, as of today, studies that have successfully implemented such monitoring and control of sexual activities in their study design are lacking,” she added.

Nurturing Nature’s Inbuilt Mechanisms

Advocating a holistic approach, Dr. Dong underscores the effectiveness of natural immunity as the optimal defense against persistent HPV—with zero side effects.

“Regardless of whether or not someone receives an HPV vaccination, our natural immunity remains essential to our protection against persistent HPV,” she said.

“Eating healthy food, maintaining quality sleep and a healthy weight, exercising, mindfulness programs, meditation, and stress-reduction techniques are all helpful to our immunity.”

She highlighted that HPV infections typically resolve on their own within two years in around 80 to 90 percent of cases.

“Natural immunity does not only fight against the virus, it also fights against cancer. Our immunity is dynamic, resourceful, and able to combat numerous viral variations, especially when the virus keeps changing after HPV vaccination,” she added.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was invented in Australia in 2006 by University of Queensland researchers Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou.

It is administered to all Australian schoolchildren aged 12 to 13 as part of the country’s immunisation program.