When it comes to adopting effective strategies for implementing HPV vaccination programs, we could all take a lesson from Australia. In a statement released last week, Tanya Plibersek, Australia s minister of health, announced that, through the National Immunization Program-sponsored school-based initiative, Australia would be the first country to extend use of the Gardasil HPV vaccine to boys aged 12 to 13. Furthermore, in an attempt to establish greater herd immunity, boys older than 13 will also be immunized over the next two years. (Herd immunity arises when a given population has an immunization rate high enough that even those who are unvaccinated gain protection from a contagion, due to the very low infection rate among those vaccinated).
While girls have been advised since 2006 to get the vaccine, recent evidence suggests that, since the virus is spread through sexual contact, males should be immunized as well. In February, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a joint recommendation advising boys between the ages of 9 and 26 to get vaccinated, yet Australia has taken this initiative one step further by actually bankrolling the vaccine campaign, which will cost about $21 million AuD over the next four years. They therefore hope to get the immunization rate much higher than the U.S. s unacceptably low rate of 20 to 30 percent a figure caused by multiple hurdles here, including its expense and concerns about vaccinating young teens against an STD.
By taking this herd immunity approach, Australia hopes to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer, 99 percent of which is caused by HPV. As the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, cervical cancer is also responsible for nearly 8 percent of all cancer-related deaths. That s why getting vaccinated with Gardasil, which protects against the four strains of HPV that cause over 70 percent of all HPV-related cervical cancer cases, is so important.
In addition to preventing cervical cancer, Gardasil has also been associated with a decrease in throat, penile, and anal cancers. Yet despite their clear benefits, vaccination initiatives in low-income nations have been even less successful than in the U.S., due to the cultural stigma associated with HPV infections.
But hopefully, says Dr. Ross, the results of the Australian vaccine campaign will demonstrate to the world the importance of implementing such public health strategies in their own countries as well. Simply stated, Australia s HPV initiative is nothing short of a brilliant idea that. If successful, it will dramatically lower HPV transmission and cancer rates a great boon to Australia s public health and a clear message to the rest of the world.