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11 – 13 year old girls brace for HPV vaccine jab

Government will vaccinate about 30,000 school-age girls annually against Human papilloma virus, a known cause of cervical cancer. The girls will face three separate shots as part of the inoculation programme.

Image: YLE / Jouni Tanninen

The HPV vaccine will become part of Finland’s national vaccination programme from November, which is when 11 – 13 year old girls will begin receiving the vaccine. The Cervarix shot has been studied in Finland as well as internationally, and experts say it causes no serious side effects, apart from occasional local irritation from the injection.

The vaccine has been proven to be a prophylactic against certain diseases caused by HPV, however it does not reverse cellular or tissue changes or provide significant protection to those who have already been infected.

“Recipients of the vaccine must remember to participate later on in group screenings, although the vaccine does provide effective protection against cervical cancer. The vaccine protects against changes in the cervix and HPV types that cause cancer, but it does not offer 100 percent protection,” noted Professor Seija Grenman of the Turku University Central Hospital.

The vaccine programme also involves another shot that protects against condyloma, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) occasionally caused by some types of HPV.

“There nearly one hundred known types of HPV. The vaccine is effective against about 70 percent of them,” Grenman explained.

30,000 girls to be vaccinated annually

The inoculation programme involves three vaccinations, with the second shot administered 1 – 2 months after the first, and the third just one month after the second. The full course of shots is estimated to provide protection for at least seven years.

“The vaccine has been heavily researched,” Grenman said.

“There are very few documented side effects, so it is well-tolerated. I many cases there is some skin irritation, but even that passes quickly,” she added.

HPV is a major culprit in cases of cervical cancer. The virus generally puts in an appearance at a young age, but in many cases it disappears on its own and only some HPV infections last long enough to cause mutations to the mucous membranes.

While specific tests can detect the presence of the virus, tests conducted when patients are too young can result in “false flags” and unnecessary additional procedures.

“In addition to HPV infection, the risk of cancer is also influenced by factors such as having sex at a young age and having multiple partners. Smoking, HIV infection, medication that weakens immune defences and other STDs such as chlamydia increase susceptibility to HPV infections,” Grenman pointed out.

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