With a national decrease in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates over the pandemic, parents are reminded their child is eligible for a free HPV vaccine if they missed their scheduled Year 7 School Immunisation Program clinic.
Young people aged 25 years and under are now eligible for a free HPV vaccine (raised from 19 years of age) to be protected against a range of HPV-related diseases, including cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, genital cancers, and genital warts.
Queensland Health spokesperson, Chief Health Officer, Dr Lynne McKinlay, said the HPV vaccine is routinely offered to Year 7 students in Queensland through the School Immunisation Program, however national data has shown that there was a decrease in HPV vaccination rates across the country, including Queensland, between 2019 and 2021.
“We know some children did not receive the HPV vaccine when recommended due to school disruptions over the course of the pandemic,” Dr McKinlay said.
“Australia is well on its way towards eliminating cervical cancer as a public health concern by 2035, and being the first country to do so, but our high HPV vaccination coverage levels need to be maintained to achieve this goal.
“I want to remind parents that if children missed this important scheduled vaccine, they are eligible for a free vaccine via catch-up school immunisation clinics or by a GP or other immunisation provider, however a consultation fee may be charged by providers outside of the School Immunisation Program,” she said.
According to National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance Australia (NCIRS) data, 84.3 per cent of girls aged 11 to 14 years and 81.9 per cent of boys aged 11 to 14 years in Queensland who had their first dose of HPV vaccine in 2019 completed their vaccine course in the same year (as a two-dose schedule).
These levels dropped to 77.7 per cent of girls aged 11 to 14 years and 75.5 per cent of boys aged 11 to 14 years in Queensland in 2021.
Dr McKinlay said it is now even easier to be protected against HPV-related diseases with the recent vaccine schedule change from two doses to a single dose following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
“The vaccine schedule change follows ATAGI’s review of recent international scientific and clinical evidence determining that a single dose of the HPV vaccine gives comparable protection to two doses – so most children are now protected after just one jab,” Dr McKinlay said.
“Children who received their first dose last year are now considered fully up to date and do not require a second dose. The exception is immunocompromised young people, who are still recommended to receive three doses of the HPV vaccine.”
“HPV is a very common virus that can affect people of all genders and ages and may cause cancers and genital warts in some people, so it’s really important to be protected,” she said.
Parents are reminded the HPV vaccine is more effective when given at a younger age. Research shows younger children create more antibodies when given the vaccine than older children do, so the vaccine is most effective when given as close to age 12-13 years as possible.
HPV vaccination is not routinely recommended for people 26 years and older because HPV infection generally occurs soon after sexual activity commences.
Parents are encouraged to make sure they complete, sign and return their child’s vaccination consent form to allow administration of the HPV and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (dTpa) (whooping cough) vaccines through the School Immunisation Program. Parents who have misplaced their form can reprint it from the Queensland Government website.
Year 10 students are also eligible to receive a free Meningococcal ACWY vaccine through the School Immunisation Program.