Cancer vaccine offers unique opportunity
30 November 2006
Cancer vaccine offers unique opportunity to address inequalities
The Cancer Control Council says the government has a unique window of opportunity to address inequalities around cancer as it decides whether the cervical cancer vaccine should be included in the national immunisation schedule.
The government is considering whether the vaccine Gardasil should be included as part of the schedule which is due to change in 2008. Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced yesterday that the vaccine would be included in the Australian national immunisation program from April 2007.
The Council strongly supports the inclusion of the vaccine from 2008 as part of the routine immunisation schedule for 11-year-olds.
“Administering the vaccine to 11-year-olds in schools should ensure Maori, Pacific and low-income girls receive high coverage. This would reduce both overall cervical cancer rates, and gaps in these rates, in future decades,” says Dr Beverley Lawton, Council member and Director of the University of Otago’s Women’s Health Research Centre.
“There is a unique opportunity to consult Maori and disadvantaged groups now, to ensure maximum impact following implementation of the vaccine from 2008.”
The Council recommends the government carries out an innovative demonstration project in communities where there appear to be unmet needs around diagnosing and treating cervical cancer.
This demonstration project would have two purposes – allowing the programme to be tailored with community consultation and input, and determining how best to extend the vaccine to older age groups in the community to allow a ‘catch-up’ programme to be most effective.
Dr Lawton says there is also a significant association between New Zealand cervical cancer incidence and socioeconomic deprivation.
“Maori are a priority target group for the vaccine. Maori women have twice the incidence of cervical cancer and nearly five times the mortality rate of non-Maori women. Maori women are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of disease spread.
“Structuring a vaccine intervention in this way would mean inequalities between Maori and non-Maori uptake could be addressed at an early stage in a future population-level vaccination programme.”