Cervical cancer, the leading cause of cancer among women aged 35 and 44 years, is an almost entirely preventable disease. An effective and affordable way of preventing this is through vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is being offered to girls in Grade 5 over the age of nine years in public- and special schools during February and March 2022.
World Cancer Day celebrated this month reminds us how essential it is to support prevention efforts and save people’s lives. Parents and caregivers can play a vital role in supporting the Western Cape Department of Health’s HPV vaccination programme this year. They are reminded that the consent forms that they sign is going to be only for the HPV vaccine, which is different from the COVID-19 vaccine. The HPV vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine are not the same.
According to the World Health Organization, a large majority of cervical cancer (more than 95%) is due to the HPV. The more eligible girls are vaccinated against the HPV, the lower their risk of developing cervical cancer when they are adults. We acknowledge parents’ concerns to vaccinate their children because they work hard to protect them every day. As with all vaccinations, some girls may experience some bruising or redness at the injection site. In most cases, the side effects usually resolve within a few days.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been a reduction in the 2021 vaccination coverage provincially. Nurses found it more difficult to reach those learners attending schools on a rotational timetable, while misinformation and other reasons, led to parents and caregivers withdrawing consent forms particularly around the time when children 12 years and older became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. As we can only administer HPV vaccines on the premises of schools, our nurses will again work hard to ensure good relations with principals and teachers so that we can reach as many eligible girls as possible this year.
Sr Beatrice Groenewald, the Overberg district child health coordinator, says she and her HPV team members are implementing various measures to achieve high levels of vaccination coverage. “With the help of girls in Grade 5, we are sending their parents printed HPV vaccine FAQs [frequently asked questions] in local languages, together with the consent form. This can enable them to familiarise themselves with the key facts (that the HPV is safe and effective, and that it is different from the COVID-19 vaccine) and make an informed decision. Each girl who returns a signed consent form will then receive a ruler as a gift. We will again rely on our good relationships with the schools and community health workers. Support for our HPV vaccination campaign will go a long way in helping us eliminate cervical cancer.”
The HPV vaccine offers hope to us all for a world free from cervical cancer, and we thank all parents and caregivers for supporting our vaccination programme this year and in the future.