Expert Dispels Myths About HPV Vaccine

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Misconceptions surrounding the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine have been tagged “false and misleading”.

In a detailed response in an interview with journalists in Abuja over the weekend, a professor of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Benin School of Medicine, Prof. Ayebo Sadoh refuted various false assertions, emphasising the vaccine’s significance and safety.

As per Science Nigeria, the World Health Organisation characterises HPV as a prevalent sexually transmitted infection affecting the skin, genital area and throat. It noted that nearly all sexually active individuals will contract the virus at some point, often without symptoms, with the immune system typically clearing it from the body.

Persistent infection with high-risk HPV can lead to the development of abnormal cells, potentially progressing to cancer.

The report emphasised that prophylactic HPV vaccination alongside pre-cancer screening and treatment are effective and cost-efficient strategies in preventing cervical cancer. Timely diagnosis and treatment can cure cervical cancer if detected in its early stages.

Global efforts are underway to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer by 2030 through specific targets agreed upon by countries worldwide.

Contrary to certain assertions, Sadoh clarified that more than 100 strains of HPV exist, not just 11. While the vaccine primarily targets four key strains (6, 11, 16, and 18)—commonly associated with cervical cancer—strains 16 and 18 alone are responsible for roughly 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases. The bivalent vaccine, featuring strains 16 and 18, also offers protection against strains 31, 33 and 45, potentially preventing up to 80 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Addressing safety concerns, she firmly debunked the unfounded notion that the vaccine poses risks to all recipients. She highlighted the rigorous testing and evaluation process vaccines undergo before approval, and refuted claims that the HPV vaccine lacks benefits.

Sadoh stressed that mandatory licensing regulations demand proven efficacy for all drugs, especially those administered to healthy individuals. Regarding reported court cases in the US, she highlighted that legal proceedings alone do not establish causality.

She noted that despite some studies suggesting associations between the vaccine and certain side effects, these claims lacked long-term validation with extensive cohorts of vaccinated individuals.

Furthermore, she explained that the withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine was due to the availability of superior alternatives, not adverse effects. Many Nigerians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine did so without experiencing any harm.

While acknowledging the commercial aspect of vaccines, Sadoh emphasised their life-saving potential, saving around four million lives annually. Contrary to claims about mandatory HPV vaccination, she assured that “it is not compulsory”.

She countered allegations of insufficient government investment in PAP smear tests by pointing out that free cervical cancer screenings are currently available at health centers as part of a broader initiative.

She criticised the dissemination of misinformation through videos as a form of national sabotage driven by anti-vaccine sentiments. Sadoh questioned the motives and timing of fear-mongering tactics, urging the public to trust the consultative processes leading up to the vaccine’s introduction.

It is worth noting that the initial phase of the HPV vaccine rollout successfully covered over five million girls in Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Taraba and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The second phase of the campaign commenced in 21 states across Nigeria on May 27, 2024, encompassing Anambra, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kwara, Kogi, Niger, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

Racheal Abujah
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