Latest figures for HPV vaccine show increased levels of coverage

Paul Hayes

23/03/2018 1:52:19 PM

Australia’s human papillomavirus vaccination programs have seen the rates of fully immunised girls and boys continue to improve across the country, according to new data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Public health physician Associate Professor Julia Brotherton believes national HPV vaccination programs have helped to normalise the process and make it like a ‘rite of passage’ for girls and boys.
Public health physician Associate Professor Julia Brotherton believes national HPV vaccination programs have helped to normalise the process and make it like a ‘rite of passage’ for girls and boys.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Web update: HPV immunisation rates 2015–16, 80.1% of girls and 74.1% of boys aged 15 were fully immunised against human papillomavirus (HPV) in 2015–16, respective increases from 78.6% and 67.3% in 2014–15.
The National HPV Vaccination Program was established for girls in 2007 and extended to boys in 2013.
‘The new results reflect a lot of hard work that’s happening in each of our states and territories – really trying to improve the school vaccination program further,’ public health physician Associate Professor Julia Brotherton told newsGP.
‘It is also about really just normalising HPV vaccine as almost like a rite of passage. So when you’re in your first year of high school, you get vaccinated against HPV to prevent you against cancer in the future.’
The new results, however, include significant variations across Primary Health Network (PHN) areas. Girls ranged from 85.6% full immunisation in Central and Eastern Sydney (NSW) to 69.2% in Tasmania, and boys from 83.5% in Murrumbidgee (NSW) to 62.5% in Tasmania.
‘Tasmania is working really actively in this space to try and catch up,’ Associate Professor Brotherton said. ‘If you look at this data, they are having year-on-year improvements and I think that’s really encouraging.’
Associate Professor Brotherton believes at least part of the continued improvement in HPV vaccination rates can be attributed to a change to the way in which people in NSW are notified if they have missed a dose.
‘Previously, the parent needed to make an appointment with a GP to arrange the catch-up dose, but now anyone who has missed a dose in school will routinely be called up within the school program the following year,’ she said. ‘It removes that barrier of parents needing to remember to make that appointment and finish the course that way.
‘It just goes to show that the way we support our programs is incredibly important, and it’s not that parents don’t want to get that third dose in, but that sometimes they don’t realise their child needs that dose, or they don’t find the time to do it.
‘So the easier we can make it, the more likely children are to finish their course.’
Looking at the overall results, Associate Professor Brotherton is particularly encouraged by the increasing rates of boys being fully immunised against HPV, especially given it is a relatively recent part of the national program.
‘It’s really great that the boys are almost closing that gap between the girls now, and hopefully that will continue to close,’ she said. ‘What we’re really aiming for is more than 80% coverage in both boys and girls.
‘It is fair to say that Australia is very much a world leader. The impacts that we’ve seen from the vaccinations we’ve done so far are a reduction in the circulation of HPV types covered by the vaccine, a massive reduction in genital warts, a reduction in the rates of pre-cancerous lesions we’re finding in women in our cervical screening program.
‘And, most recently, we found a reduction in recurrent respiratory papillomatosis cases in children, thanks to the near elimination of types 6 and 11, amongst mothers, who then obviously don’t vertically transmit it to their child.
‘We know these vaccines produce fantastic herd protection. So that’s why if we get to coverage of 80% or more in a sustained way, we can probably get rid of the virus from circulating.’

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