Free Cervical Cancer vaccination programme begins
From: Jill Stringer
Date: 29 August 2008
Subject: Free Cervical Cancer vaccination programme begins Monday 1 September
“I know that my girl will grow up one day and become a partner, maybe a wife, perhaps a mother. And that’s why I wanted to have her vaccinated against HPV now – so that she will be protected into her adulthood from the heartache of cervical cancer.”
Over a year ago, Featherston mother Vicki paid for her daughter, Courtney, to be vaccinated against HPV – the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Courtney was only 12 at the time but Vicki, a Registered Nurse, knew that this is the optimal age for the vaccination. “I didn’t want to wait, as I didn’t know if the Gardasil ® vaccine was going to become part of the government’s immunisation schedule. I knew it was too important to miss. I think that it was money well spent, and we have no regrets, even though the vaccine is now going to be offered free.”
From September 1, the series of three vaccinations will be offered free throughout the country to all young women born after January 1990, and Gardasil ® will be part of the national immunisation schedule for year eight students from next year.
Vicki did a lot of research into the vaccine before bringing up the subject with her daughter. “Once I was convinced of the value of the vaccination, I gave her a pamphlet to read and explained why I thought it would be a good step for her to take. The first thing she said was, ‘is it going to hurt like the MeNZB™ one?’ but she had no adverse reactions to this one. Some girls have had a mild reaction, but she didn’t even have a sore arm.”
“When I gave her the information, I told her that this would protect her against the most common types of cervical cancer. She was like ‘what’s that?’ and when I explained, she thought that it was all too gross and horrible.” And that, Vicki believes, is one of the reasons why parents need to find out about the vaccine, talk to their daughters about it, and help them to make a decision regarding it. “Our teenagers operate very much in the moment, and they’re not always good at making decisions that will affect them next week, let alone in five or ten year’s time. This vaccine is most effective when it’s given before they’re exposed to any form of HPV, and that means before they become sexually active.”
Vicki talked the decision over with her husband as well as her daughter, as she believes health issues are the responsibility of the whole family. “We talked about this as a family, because we wanted her to know that we have her best interests at heart – as every parent does. Your children are a part of you and you carry the burden of their hurt with you, even when they’ve grown up. If you can protect your child in any way, then you will. We saw this as a chance to protect Courtney from something preventable, well into her future.”
Vicki says she would encourage other young women to have the free course of vaccinations. There are a number of different strains of HPV, and even if they are sexually active, women may not have been exposed to all the particular strains that may go on to cause disease.
She also stresses the need for women to have regular cervical smears – whether they have been vaccinated against HPV or not, as a way of checking that everything is fine. This enables possible problems or irregularities to be picked up early, which leads to much-improved treatment or outcomes.
What is cervical
• It’s cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus or womb.
• It’s caused by a common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which most people come into contact with at some stage during their lives.
• There are usually no obvious symptoms with HPV infections.
• Most HPV infections clear naturally and don’t develop into cervical cancer, but if abnormal cells occur and go untreated, cervical cancer can result.
• More than 99% of cervical cancer is linked to HPV infections.
• Every year in New Zealand about 160 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 60 die from it.
• The vaccine causes the body’s immune system to produce its own protection (antibodies) against the HPV types that cause most cervical cancers.
• Getting vaccinated before exposure to these HPV types provides protection against developing most types of cervical cancers.
• In the long term more than 30 lives may be saved every year.