Standard 5,6 and 7 school going girls as well as out of school girls aged 9 to 13 years are expected to get vaccinated with the Human PapillomaVirus (HPV) vaccine for primary prevention of cervical cancer during the national roll out of the vaccine this week. Ministry of Health (MoH) Deputy Permanent Secretary Shenaaz El-Halabi allayed fears that the vaccine may not be safe, stating that before the national roll out, HPV demonstration exercises were conducted to assess the feasibility, accessibility and cost effectiveness of both facility based and school based mode of delivery in selected demonstration sites, during which no inauspicious events were reported in any of the two phases that were undertook.
“The ministry launched introduction of HPV vaccine and phase I demonstration in 2013. This demonstration exercise vaccinated approximately 2500 girls aged aged 9 to 13 years in selected primary schools in Molepolole. The phase II demonstration exercise was conducted in three districts (Kweneng East, Kweneng West and Selibe Phikwe) to draw lessons from the HPV vaccine demonstration, to improve HPV vaccination activities and directly inform plans for the national roll out and introduction of future new vaccines. No adverse events were reported in any of the two phases,” she said. El Halabi further urged parents to vaccinate their daughters against cervical cancer as it is, “the leading cause of cancer related deaths among women in the country and most common in women aged 30 to 39, an age when their health and support is critical to the wellbeing of their family.”
MoH Child Health Division Chief Health Officer, Ndibo Monyatsi said parents are encouraged to make sure their children get vaccinated this week because they will not make any exception after that unless there are good reasons as to why a child was not vaccinated this week. “It is important to take it now because we will only make arrangements for special cases only after this. We are introducing the vaccine to the immunization schedule so it is gong to be an annual process, to give a chance to those who haven’t reached the targeted age yet to also get vaccinated.
She said though there are some private health facilities who offer the vaccine in three doses, they will only administer two doses of the vaccine because the World Health Organization (WHO) has done research to support that two doses are effective enough on girls under the age of 15 years. She said every District Management Health Team (DHMT) in the country has been tasked with educating people in their respective districts to prevent any communication barriers.
“Every district has already undergone training for implementation of HPV and public education on the vaccine is ongoing. Health facilities have also been given the vaccine to administer to out of school girls to make sure we do not leave any one behind. The vaccine protects about 70 percent from cervical cancer and it would be a shame if parents deny their children this opportunity because though it is expensive elsewhere, we will be administering it for free.”