Why including HPV vaccine in national program is waste of public fund, explains top epidemiologist

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Universal Immunization Program

After the central government’s push in the budget for vaccination of girls in the age group of 9-14 years to prevent cervical cancer and the Union health ministry’s plans to include HPV vaccine in the Universal Immunization Program, a top epidemiologist says that it will be nothing but a waste of public funds if it is included in UIP as it would be a scientific blunder by eliminating the control group which can only establish the efficacy of preventing the deadly disease.

The Union Health Ministry had last month said that it is closely monitoring incidences of cervical cancer in the country and is in regular touch with states and various health departments on this. India is home to about 16 per cent of the world’s women, but accounts for about a quarter of all cervical cancer incidences and nearly a third of global cervical cancer deaths.

“Keep in mind that the average age of getting cervical cancer is 50 years, about 4 decades later. Will the promise of the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer hold good 4 decades down the line? These are some serious questions which cannot be wished away by frivolous stunts. We need solid evidence. Propaganda is short-lived and often backfires. What is the current evidence?”, said Dr Amitav Banerjee, top epidemiologist.

He claimed that nobody knows for sure but the concept of prevention by vaccination is based on the fact that one of the causes for cervical cancer is the HPV virus which has over 200 types. Types 16 and 18 have been associated with precancerous lesions of cervical cancer, while types 6 & 11 are associated with genital warts.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. In 2018, an estimated 570 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 311 000 women died from the disease. Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, with 604 000 new cases in 2020. About 90% of the 342 000 deaths caused by cervical cancer occurred in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality are in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Central America and South-East Asia. Regional differences in the cervical cancer burden are related to inequalities in access to vaccination, screening and treatment services, risk factors including HIV prevalence, and social and economic determinants such as sex, gender biases and poverty, said the World Health Organization.