HPV Vaccine Program In Australia To Take Herd-Immunity Approach

According to a recent study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the HPV vaccine is effective in lowering rates of human papillomavirus (HPV) among young women. Furthermore, the HPV vaccine provides herd immunity, with rates of infection decreasing from 30.2 percent to 15.4 percent among the young women in the study who had not received the vaccine. The country of Australia will be taking advantage of the herd immunity offered by the HPV vaccine by implementing a new National Immunization Program-sponsored school-based initiative.

Through the HPV vaccine initiative announced on July 12, Australia became the first country to provide the Gardasil® HPV vaccine to boys between the ages of 12 and 13. Older boys can also receive the HPV vaccine at school under a catch-up program taking place over the next two years.

The inventor of the HPV vaccine, Professor Ian Frazer, believes that Australia is at the forefront of an important public health initiative:

“The addition of the HPV vaccine for young males on the National Immunization Program is good news for the young men of Australia. This is a very safe and effective vaccine and vaccinating boys will also further benefit women who have not been vaccinated through herd immunity.”

Tanya Plibersek, the minister of health in Australia, echoed similar sentiments in a press release about the new HPV vaccine initiative, stating that the “government-sponsored initiative was targeted to synergize with the current immunization program in girls to decrease the incidence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the Australian population.”

The new National Immunization Program will cost an estimated AUD$21.1m over the span of four years. However, because cervical cancer, which is caused by the HPV virus in 99 percent of cases, is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among women throughout the world. The incidence rate for cervical cancer is approximately 9 percent of new cancer cases annually. The Gardasil® HPV vaccine protects against the four most common strains of the virus, which account for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases caused by HPV. The HPV virus is also responsible for other less common cancers including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, tongue, tonsils, and throat.

Thus, in the long run, the new HPV vaccine initiative in Australia will save the country more money in health care cancer costs than the program requires to run.

Although the HPV vaccine has proven effective, large-scale vaccination programs have so far been largely unsuccessful due to societal friction towards the vaccine. Hopefully the new HPV vaccine program in Australia will shed light on the healthcare policy changes required for the world to deal with an increasing incidence of HPV-related cancers.

Would you like to see your country develop a large-scale HPV vaccine program?