Up until now, parents have been asked to give their consent ahead of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations administered to girls by school nurses, and many guardians have opted out of allowing their daughters to get the jab. But this is set to change.
Tuija Leino, who heads the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL’s immunisation unit, says permission was sought as parents were not aware that the HPV vaccine had been introduced to the national immunisation programme. But now that people know about it, permission is no longer needed, she explains.
Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare says about half of 11-12-year-old girls eligible for the vaccination received it in the past 5 years that it has been available as part of the national immunisation programme.
Parents worry vaccine promotes teen promiscuity
Regional differences in vaccine adoption are stark. In Finland’s urban centres, the HPV immunisation rate is between 70 and 80 percent, and in some places it reaches as high as 90 percent.
”But there are also communities where half of girls aren’t inoculated,” says Leino.
The THL says asking for permission has given parents pause for thought, leading some to opt out.
Leino says parents may feel their daughters won’t need the vaccine—although three-quarters of women contract the virus at some point in their lives and cervical cancer remains the third-most common form of cancer in Finland.
"One would imagine that people would would embrace a cancer prevention vaccine, but that hasn't been the case," Leino says.
Meanwhile Marianne Junes, a nurse working in Tornio, a northern border town, says some parents get caught up in anti-vaccine conspiracies online while others envision their daughters not being sexually active.
”The HPV vaccine is suffering from the wrong image,” Junes explains.
Tea Taskila, a physician at the Tornio public health centre, is in agreement and says the medical community is frustrated by false beliefs surrounding the vaccine.
”I’ve been around before the vaccine existed and treated various stages of cervical cancer. Back then we were praying for relief, but now that the vaccine is available, it seems as if people don't care,” she says.
Study: HPV vaccine safe
This week, a large-scale Finnish study came out disproving allegations of side-effects linked to the human papillomavirus vaccine. According to the research, scientists did not detect a causal link between the cervical cancer-prevention jab and reported adverse drug reactions.
The vaccination is currently available for preteen girls. Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare is now also looking into providing the injection for boys through the national immunisation programme.
This summer a Tampere University study found that a 45-percent immunisation rate in girls and 20-percent level of coverage among boys would establish herd immunity against a range of cancers linked to the human papillomavirus.