As parents, we face a number of unfamiliar vaccine options. Because we didn’t grow up with some of the newer vaccines or learn about them in school, they are not always well understood. And, since some of these vaccines often are not part of national immunization schedules, a lot of parents wonder how necessary they are or if the extra expense is cost effective.
Over the next weeks and months, we’ll be posting about some of these newer immunizations. We’ll start today by sharing some basic information about the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. The HPV vaccine was first licensed for use in 2006 and has been available in private clinics in Kenya for several years. You may have heard that the government recently launched a countrywide drive to vaccinate all Kenyan schoolgirls of a certain age against HPV.
HPV is an extremely common sexually transmitted virus—the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), in fact. Most of the time HPV causes little trouble, which is why you might not know much about it. Some strains of the virus, however, are responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer—that is, cancer of the neck of the womb. Of all cancers, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in Kenya and the type that kills the most women here. Worldwide, the number of deaths attributable to this disease is more than 275,000 annually, and East Africa has the highest incidence of invasive cervical cancer in the world.
The cost of the HPV vaccine is certainly far lower than either the cost of treating precancers and cervical cancer in its curable stage, which depends upon early detection via PAP smears, or the losses to families and the economy when women succumb to the disease at a more advanced stage. It’s worth remembering, also, that HPV contributes to infertility, since a woman who survives aggressive cervical cancer may be unable to bear children due to treatment. In the brief time since it became available, the HPV vaccine has been responsible for some very impressive health outcomes.
Most of the vaccinations administered to babies and children protect them against diseases that could appear at any time during childhood and strike younger children particularly hard. It’s somewhat unusual for a vaccine to protect against a disease that may not affect a child for many years to come. Yet, that is the case with the HPV vaccine, which is recommended for both girls and boys from the age of nine. This is because the vaccine provides the strongest immunity when all three doses are administered well before a young person becomes exposed to the live virus through sexual activity. By vaccinating your child early, you ensure that she or he is as fully protected as possible well before sexual debut, no matter when that happens to occur.
Parents of boys may be confused about vaccinating against HPV when it is said to be the cause of a cancer that only women get. Simply put, unvaccinated boys grow into unvaccinated men who will one day contribute to spread of the virus. In addition, certain strains of HPV cause genital warts as well as some cancers (penile, anal, mouth and throat) that do affect males. These cancers, although statistically much rarer than cervical cancer, are still worth guarding against.
We hope we’ve raised your interest in protecting your children, especially daughters, with the HPV vaccination series. We’re pretty sure we’ve also managed to raise a few more questions in your mind. For this reason, we’ve prepared a fact sheet about HPV immunization. The fact sheet will shortly be posted on our Facebook page and will be come a permanent part of our website.
If you have additional questions, or to schedule an appointment to immunize your child, please speak with the clinic nurse on 254 722 519 863 or 254 733 668 517. You may also email firstname.lastname@example.org