If there is a vaccine that parents should not overlook in deciding for the welfare of their daughters’ health, it is the one against HPV or the human papillomavirus, according to vaccine proponents in the country.
Dr. May Montellano, past president of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), reminds Filipino parents that vaccinating against HPV means helping protect their daughters from the deadly disease of cervical cancer, as well as other HPV-related infections and malignancies.
“There is absolutely no reason why we should not take advantage of the single most important benefit that HPV vaccination brings, and that is saving a life,” she says.
It is estimated that every day in the Philippines, 18 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed, and 8 to 12 deaths occur due to the disease. People need to know that aside from cervical cancer, HPV is also the cause of cancers of the vagina, vulva and anus, and it is the primary cause of genital warts, which are the earliest signs of HPV infection and are most common in young adults. These go largely undetected, numbering into the thousands.
Reducing or possibly eliminating the number of vaccine-preventable deaths is at the heart of what PFV and medical professionals such as Dr. Montellano do. A number of recommended vaccinations are already administered to infants and young children under the government’s Expanded Immunization Program, such as those for measles, polio, hepatitis B and others.
However, awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as pneumonia and cervical cancer, needs to be stepped up. HPV vaccination must be administered to young females before they reach the age of sexual maturity, which is around 9 to 10 years old.
“The efficacy of developing immune resistance to the human papilloma virus through HPV vaccination is found to be optimum at this developmental age,” explains Dr. Montellano.
Latest developments in vaccine technology have also given rise to a type of HPV vaccine that covers a wider number of strains of the virus, and thus wider coverage against a greater number of HPV-related diseases. In fact, the HPV vaccine, which has broader coverage is also indicated for young males. Males are just as likely to be at risk for HPV-related diseases such as genital warts, anal cancer, and even penile and head and neck cancers, and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
The key to maximizing the benefit of HPV vaccination is continuous awareness and education about it, for more widespread administration. “We need to look beyond the sexual stigma associated with HPV. It just so happens that HPV is transmitted through sexual activity.” says Dr. Montellano.
There are those who think that vaccinating children against HPV may promote sexual promiscuity or activity. Another hurdle is that HPV infection is “silent,” which means that its manifestation may not be immediately seen until several years or decades later. Thus, the sense of urgency may not be there.
It is important to protect individuals before they are ever exposed to HPV. “We need to accept sexuality as a normal part of human development and behavior. If we do not confront the threat of HPV and sexually-related diseases objectively, we will miss out on opportunities to overcome this problem effectively,” reminds Dr. Montellano.