UGANDA – The Uganda Ministry of Health is planning to reduce the age at which girls can receive the human papilloma vaccine which protects against cervical cancer.

At the moment, the vaccine is given to girls aged nine years and older. However, the health ministry wants to start giving the vaccine to five-year-olds as part of a new plan that is aimed at increasing the uptake of the second jab of HPV vaccine.

Two jabs administered six months apart are what is needed to be fully vaccinated against cervical cancer. However, statistics from the Ugandan National Expanded Programme on Immunizations show that many girls get one jab but never receive the second one.

According to UNEPI data, uptake of the first HPV jab stands at 90 percent. However, that of the second jab is less than 50 percent.

Dr Immaculate Ampaire, the UNEPI deputy programme manager attributes the continued slow uptake of the vaccine to the closure of schools that has made it impossible to administer the vaccines.

We have been targeting girls in schools but due to COVID-19 that has interrupted learning, we have not been able to follow up with learners. All vaccination programmes were affected by COVID-19 but HPV has been the most affected because we rely on schools being open to administer the vaccines. We hope the situation will improve when schools are re-opened,” said Dr. Ampaire.

Failure for girls to get vaccinated exposes them to cervical cancer when they become sexually active. Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country killing as many as 4300 women annually.

While health officials might be looking at administering the HPV vaccine early, there’s no scientific proof that this has been done elsewhere in the world.

Drug recommendation authorities like the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation recommend that the vaccine be administered between 11 and 12 years of age for both boys and girls.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that are extremely common worldwide. According to the WHO, globally, 570,000 cancer cases per year in women and 60,000 cases in men are attributable to HPV, respectively, 8.6% and 0.8% of all cancers occurring worldwide.

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