WOMEN’S Health Grampians believes the introduction of a new human papillomavirus vaccine is an opportunity to increase sexual health education among students.
The federal government has announced a new vaccine – Gardasil 9 – will be rolled out free to male and female students aged 12 and 13 through school-based programs.
The vaccine offers protection against nine strains of the human papillomavirus that can cause cervical and other cancers.
The previous Gardasil vaccine – available since the National HPV Vaccination Program was introduced in 2007 – offered protection against four strains.
Gardasil 9 requires two doses rather than three, as with the previous version of Gardasil.
Women’s Health Grampians chief executive Marianne Hendron welcomed the rollout of the new vaccine.
“Gardasil’s effectiveness and benefits are well documented,” she said.
“Evidence from Australia, the United States and other similar countries indicate it has had a significant impact on the incidence of HPV, which has such a strong link with cervical cancer and other cancers in males and females.”
Ms Hendron said it was important for young men and women to be aware of what the vaccine did and did not protect against.
“I think the rollout could and should be used as an opportunity to increase more comprehensive education for boys and girls around sexual health more broadly, especially regarding the insidious sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, which the vaccine does not protect against,” she said.
“There is a risk of complacency whereby young people might see the vaccine as offering more protection than it actually does. Condoms are still the most effective way to prevent chlamydia and several other diseases.”
Professor Ian Frazer, who invented Gardasil, said the papillomavirus came in about 200 strains, but only 10 of those contributed to cancer.
He said the current vaccine protected against strains responsible for about 75 per cent of the cancers.
“This new vaccine adds in further strains, which are responsible for most of the other 25 per cent, so by giving the vaccine we now have, it will be possible to protect against almost all cervical cancers,” he said.