To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: The cervical cancer vaccine

It is about sex and children…….

It is about a virus……

It is about cancer………

And let’s not beat around the bush…….. it is also about money……….

Interested? ???? Have I generated some emotion????

READ ON

Nobody wants to get cancer. So when we get told that there is something we can do, particularly for our children……..to protect them……. it would be crazy not to jump at the chance!

Oh ,but it is not so simple, we get told…..

BE FEARFUL—– BE WEARY—– YOU COULD HARM YOUR CHILD

WHAT IS THE TRUE STORY?

Worldwide , it is estimated that there will be 527 624 new cases of cervical cancer every year. In South Africa, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women between 15 and 44 years of age. Current estimates indicate that 7735 new women are diagnosed each year .Of these women, half will not survive.

The tragedy is that this is completely preventable!

Cancer happens because of two main factors:

Environment and genetics

Let us focus on environment…….The main culprit for cervical cancer is HPV(Human Papilloma Virus).

Now there are about 200 different types of HPV—Only about a dozen of these cause cervical cancer. The most common subtypes to cause cancer is HPV 16 and HPV 18.HPV 6 and HPV 11 cause genital warts.

How do you get infected with this virus?

By being sexually active (skin- to- skin sexual contact including vaginal, anal or oral sex) with someone who already has the virus.

Once in the cells of the cervix, anus or throat, the virus has an ingenious way of becoming part of the cell, stimulating it to make proteins that cause the cell to go into excessive growth mode .These proteins also help these abnormal cells to escape death—- which is what usually happens when our immune systems are working well .When these infected cell are not destroyed, the cells eventually grow into a cancerous tumour. This process is usually slow and can take many years to happen.

HPV infection is usually silent….. which means you may not know you have it ,until an abnormality is picked up on a pap smear.

HOW DO WE PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER?

The most obvious (tongue -in -cheek) answer:     DON’T ! HAVE! SEX!

Ha ha …..completely unrealistic!!!

Upto 2008 all we had to offer for prevention was a regular pap smear—- this test detects changes in cervical cells before they became cancerous and such cells can then be destroyed surgically.

Enter the vaccine……..

The two cervical cancer vaccines available in South Africa,(CERVARIX)and( GARDISIL)protect mainly against HPV 16 and HPV 18, and so give indirect protection against cervical cancer. GARDISIL gives additional protection against the HPV strains that cause genital warts—The commonest STD that I see in my practice.

The vaccines work by stimulating our immune systems to produce antibodies to HPV so that when we are exposed to it in future, it cannot infect our cells and cause cancerous change. It works best when given before we have been sexually active at all. So the recommendation is to give it to girls and boys as young as 9 years old. It involves a set of three injections given over 6 months with full immunity available 1 month after the last shot.

What ?   THAT YOUNG!!!

YES…….

The idea is that this will make sure that they are protected right from their first sexual experience.

It can be given later as well and does not have to be done at age 9.So if you think you know enough about your child, you can delay it. However don’t live with your head in the sand……your child may be sexually active before you are aware!

Whilst the vaccine can be given even after sexual activity has already commenced, its full protective effect will be limited.

It has been projected by published data that if 100% of girls from 9 to 12 years were to be vaccinated the expected reduction in cancer incidence would reach 61%.

WHAT A WIN!!!!!

“NOT SO!!” SAY THE ANTI VACCINE PROPONENTS

“ITS NOT SAFE.” The fear-mongers say.

“THE VACCINE WILL ENCOURAGE OUR CHILDREN TO HAVE SEX AT AN EARLIER AGE. ” The conservative factions say. ”IF YOU ARE NOT PROMISCUOUS YOU SHOULD NOT NEED THE VACCINE”.

“TOO EXPENSIVE” . In South Africa the current price ranges from R700.00 to R1000.00 per dose. It is not covered by medical aid schemes.

Firstly, with regards to safety….

It should be a given, that with any new medical intervention, continuous surveillance is undertaken and all adverse reactions are noted and investigated. This is indeed the case. To date,67 million doses have been administered and 1671 adverse events have been reported. Neurological and auto immune illnesses and even sudden death have been linked to the administration of the vaccine. However , so far, these events have been found to be co-incidental .

Despite this, due to public pressure the Japanese government has halted their national HPV vaccine programme pending further safety information. However they still support parents who want to have their children vaccinated. Other governments like the British, the Australians and our own S.A health departments have forged ahead and implemented national sponsored programmes. Shouldering the economic burden for the vaccine is obviously better than shouldering the cost , economic and human, of HPV related cancers. A recent  published review of 14 safety studies has found minimal effects of redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site. They concluded that so far, the vaccine appears safe. Major safety concerns seem to be unfounded.

What about the expense?..R3000 is a lot to pay for a completed vaccine dosage. At this price , it is the very people in developing countries where it is needed most, who will not be able to afford it.Pharmaceutical companies responsible for manufacture of these vaccines are supplying it at a lower cost to government funded programmes and economically challenged nations.

To the social conservatives……..

As parents we all try to teach our children that sex is sacred and should be reserved for that special person…. but the reality of life especially in AFRICA is that HPV exists ….

It takes just one episode of sexual contact (even the first one) that puts our children at risk…

Our children may be exposed to other events or people that have not had the same backgrounds or philosophy as us .…..

LETS PROTECT THEM!!!!

Just reading this article on this blog, implies that you are part of a privileged group of the population that has options.

Have the courage to make the right decision for you and your family…..






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