From the start of 2018, a new vaccine will give young Australians greater protection against more strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
Ten strains of HPV can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar warts in females, and anal cancers and genital warts in both males and females. Such warts often lead to cancers. Cervical cancer is the tenth-biggest killer of Australian women and kills about a quarter of a million women worldwide every year.
The new vaccine, Gardasil 9, developed by Nobel Prize winning immunologist Professor Ian Frazer, will help protect males and females aged 9 to 26 against nine of the ten HPV strains. It will be offered as a free service through school based immunisation programs to all 12 to 13 year old boys and girls in years 7 or 8.
Schools have delivered successful immunisation programs for many years, including pertussis (whooping cough) and varicella (chicken pox). The older Gardasil vaccine was first introduced to students in 2007, and protected against 70% of HPV infections. The new formula, already in use in the US, New Zealand and Europe, has been shown to prevent 93% of HPV strains.
Professor Frazer and his colleague Jian Zhou first developed the technology leading to the vaccine about 30 years ago. Since then, over 200 million people worldwide have received the vaccine. Professor Frazer said at a press conference in Sydney last month that data collected in Australia since the vaccine was introduced shows a reduction of about 90% in the pre-cancer that would have to be treated surgically.
Professor Frazer says people who have already had the older vaccine are “well protected”, so long as they continue to get screened for cervical cancer. That vaccine gives lifelong protection against the two most common cancer causing strains of HPV.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was possible to eliminate the HPV virus completely through vaccination, as has already been done with polio. The National Immunisation Program spends $460 million nationally, with a large range of vaccines all throughout life.
The Victorian government recently announced it has achieved its best ever immunisation coverage for childhood illnesses, with nearly 95% of 5-year olds now protected against preventable and serious life-threatening diseases. This is higher than the nationwide average of 94%.
The immunisation program is promoted by a tough “No Jab, No Play” law, requiring all Victorian children to be fully vaccinated to attend childcare and kindergarten. The State Government also released the popular app, VaxOnTime, to help parents keep track of their child’s immunisations.
Further information about the HPV vaccine will be provided to parents and adolescents over coming months, in preparation for the 2018 school year.