Lifesaving HPV doses for teenagers postponed as staff are too busy giving out Covid jabs
The NHS has sparked outrage by postponing lifesaving HPV jabs for teenagers because staff are too busy giving Covid vaccines.
Data published earlier this week revealed the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine cuts cervical cancer case by almost 90 per cent.
But Hertfordshire’s school age immunisation service has controversially postponed the rollout to focus on coronavirus.
It was due to offer hundreds of year eight pupils their first dose of the HPV jab this term but has pushed it back to next summer.
Data published earlier this week revealed the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine cuts cervical cancer case by almost 90 per cent [File photo]
The vaccine works best if girls and boys get the jab before they come into contact with HPV, which means before they are sexually active.
It protects against cancers caused by HPV such as cervical cancer, penile cancer and some mouth and throat cancers.
It was first introduced for girls in 2008 and extended to boys in 2019.
Figures from October last year show 59.2 per cent of girls and 54.4 per cent of boys had their first HPV jab in 2019/20.
This compares with 88 per cent of girls the previous year.
Children are usually offered their first jab in year eight, with the second dose six to 24 months later.
Over-15s who miss the vaccine can be jabbed any time up to their 25th birthday, but have to have three doses.
Hertfordshire’s school age immunisation service has controversially postponed the rollout to focus on coronavirus [File photo]
Hertfordshire told parents last month that first doses will now be offered in summer 2022, with ‘completion’ in the next academic year.
However, those due to turn 15 soon will be ‘prioritised’ before the summer.
NHS England said it is ‘currently unaware’ of any other issues with distributing the HPV jab nationally but would ‘continue to monitor the situation’.
Labour MP Jess Phillips, who has previously told how she was diagnosed with HPV in her twenties, said: ‘It is vitally important that every effort is made to ensure children are not left at risk of cancer because the Government has failed to plan two years into the pandemic.
‘It will cost lives and also money if this generation of children don’t receive the vaccine.’ And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Daisy Cooper said: ‘Only this week the benefits of the HPV vaccine were shown to have saved thousands of women’s lives.
‘It is critical that school children get this vaccine on time this year after the disruption over the pandemic, so that no one misses out.
‘The Government have put our schools, teachers and GPs at the bottom of the pile during this pandemic.
‘They need to provide the support and resources to our overstretched NHS and school staff so that they can roll out both the HPV and Covid vaccines at the same time.’ Hertfordshire has around 120 schools with around 1,000 12 and 13-year-olds on their rolls.
Covid vaccine uptake rates for 12 to 15-year-olds were higher in Hertfordshire – at 37 per cent – than the England average of 24.2 per cent.
The jabs service said delivering vaccines had been ‘challenging’ during the pandemic, but children had been prioritised and vaccines remained available.
The NHS’s schedule allows flexibility to accommodate different vaccination programmes for teenagers, with HPV not considered a seasonal virus.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘While small delays are understandable due to Covid-19, the HPV vaccine is most effective when given at a younger age, so it’s important that young people are given the option to have it and that delivery gets back on track as soon as feasible.’
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it illustrated ‘the huge pressure’ on the school age immunisation service of running the Covid vaccination programme.
A study in the Lancet this week found a reduction in both pre-cancerous growths and an 87 per cent reduction in cervical cancer as a result of the HPV jab.
Malcolm Clark, senior cancer prevention policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said the research shows the importance of providing access to the jabs, adding: ‘We would hope to see the vaccination back up and running in these areas as soon as feasible.’
Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘The HPV vaccine is an important tool in the fight against cervical cancer, so it is not ideal that Covid continues to impact delivery.
‘Every effort must be made to ensure no child misses the opportunity to access the vaccination and that they, along with their parents, have all the information they need.
‘Vaccines are very much in the public eye right now and we must closely monitor uptake to ensure we do not see the numbers benefitting from the HPV vaccine drop.
‘Prioritising those who are soon to be 15 is important as, after that age, two doses instead of three are needed and this introduces more risk of a child not completing the course.’ Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy at Brook sexual health charity, said she hoped any HPV vaccine programmes disrupted by the pandemic would ‘get back on track, and that there is a catch-up scheme to ensure any young people who may have missed out still receive their dose of this lifesaving vaccine as soon as possible’.