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THL: Lower HPV coverage among west coast residents, immigrants

Girls resident on Finland’s west coast have not been eager to take the HPV vaccine, which was recently added to the public health vaccine programme. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare the uptake rate for the vaccine has also been lower among immigrants. Overall though, coverage rates have come in at a respectable 70 percent.

Kaksi HPV-rokotuspiikkiä.
Kaksi HPV-rokotuspiikkiä. Image: Jarkko Heikkinen / Yle

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, so far some 80 percent of health centres have reported on their HPV vaccination coverage. That data indicate that 70 percent of girls have been immunized against infection to date. The HPV vaccine helps prevent infections from some kinds of human papillomavirus associated with cervical and other cancers.

However the THL medical chief Hanna Nohynek said that there are clear geographical discrepancies in vaccination coverage.

“For example on the west coast coverage comes in at around 50 percent, even below that. If we look at areas like Espoo or Helsinki we see coverage of up to 80 percent,” she explained.

Nohynek noted that the Swedish-speaking region on Finland’s west coast appeared to oppose the vaccination programme, as seen by the low uptake of HPV vaccination. She added that immigrant groups also seemed to have a low appetite for the vaccine.

Although the THL said that it’s concerned about the regional differences, it believed that overall coverage was reasonable given the fact that the HPV jab is a new addition to the programme. However the public health watchdog noted that Finland lags slightly behind Sweden, where coverage is over 80 percent. In contrast, however just 40 percent of potential recipients in the United States have taken the jab.

The health official pointed out that providing the HPV vaccine to girls also helps protect boys. It has been estimated if eight out of ten girls get the shot, it will also provide protection for four out of ten boys.

“But this completely excludes homosexuals who don’t have sex with women. We can’t provide mass protection from the diseases to which they are exposed,” Nohynek concluded.

Boys’ vaccine under consideration

Health officials have recently been mulling the possibility of developing an HPV vaccine for boys. An international group of vaccine experts will provide a statement on the matter later this year. Nohynek said such a vaccine could help prevent cancers of the penis, head and neck. However financing would be needed for another programme, she pointed out.

“From the government’s point of view, the question is whether this kind of disease prevention is sufficiently cost-effective to warrant spending tax money,” she added.

Overall, the pressure is on to extend the coverage of the national vaccine programme – officials would like to include a vaccine against chicken pox and to expand the programme of shots against tick-borne encephalitis.

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