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HPV vaccine scheme is preventing infections

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations are successfully preventing infections in young women, new research has found. 

The recent Public Health England (PHE) study published in Vaccine provides important new evidence that the programme is successfully preventing HPV infections in young women in England. The research found HPV infections (type 16 and 18) in around one in five sexually active women aged 16-18 years prior to the immunisation programme, dropping to one in 15 following its introduction.

Samples from over 4,000 women aged 16-24 from 2010 to 2012 were compared with similar samples taken in 2008, just before the programme began. The findings show a low prevalence of HPV infections (type 16 and 18) after the programme's introduction, compared to the prevalence observed prior to it. HPV types 16 and 18 have caused 70-80% of cervical cancers.

In the post-immunisation study, HPV 16/18 prevalence was lowest among 16-18 year-olds, the age group with the highest vaccination coverage (65% bcoverage), and increased with age. This is a reversal of the age trend seen in the 2008 sample, where the youngest girls had the highest prevalence of HPV 16/18.

Dr Kate Soldan, head of PHE's HPV surveillance, said: “These data show that as expected the HPV immunisation programme in England is reducing HPV 16/18, and doing so very substantially. 

“We observed a clear correlation between immunisation coverage and reduced type 16 and 18 HPV infections. This adds to our confidence that the programme will achieve its aim of reducing cervical cancer. This may be of interest to countries that have yet to implement a programme of their own.”

The benefits delivered by the immunisation programme are in addition to the considerable benefits provided to women by the national Cervical Cancer Screening Programme. Cervical screening remains important for women to reduce their risk of cervical cancer as vaccination does not protect against all cancer-causing HPV types.

More than 85% of the target age group (12-13 year old girls) for the Human Papillomavirus in England received the full course last year, Public Health England reported.