Dispelling the myths of HPV vaccines

Dispelling the myths of HPV vaccines

Dispelling the myths of HPV vaccines



3  Mins Read

In Hong Kong, around 500 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, making it the 7th most common cancer among female¹. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection is responsible for over 90% cases². Data show that the chance of Hong Kong females to be infected by HPV is as high as 80%³. Since HPV is transmitted through direct contact and the cervix is located in a very private part of the body, it’s almost certain that cervical cancer is passed on via sexual intercourse. Besides, the virus could also increase the risk of cancer in the vagina, anus and other parts of the body via sexual activities.

HPV vaccines’ effectiveness varies?

HPV vaccines protect against up to 90%² of cervical cancer for female who receive the vaccine before they are sexually active. But for those who are already sexually active, the protection would be reduced. Nevertheless, there are different types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, such as HPV 16, 18, 52 and 53, so the effectiveness depends on the type of HPV the patient has before vaccination. Females can take the Pap Smear to test for HPV.

Regular cervical smear checks

As it takes several years for infected cervical cells to become cancerous, doing regular pap smear is also an effective way to prevent cervical cancer. One must be reminded that HPV vaccines don’t provide 100% protection and females are advised to take regular Pap Smear after they are sexually active.

Dispel the HPV vaccines myths

Even though HPV vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, the vaccination rate falls below 10% in Hong Kong⁴. The lack of promotion and education, and the price of the vaccines could be the causes of the low vaccination rate but misconceptions also exist:

  1. Vaccinations are not needed before the first sexual intercourse?
    HPV vaccines are most effective when administered before one becomes sexually active. The vaccine can be given as early as 9 years old. In some countries, the government provides the vaccine to secondary school pupils.
  2. Only females should get the vaccines?
    Males getting vaccinated is not common in Hong Kong. Some countries have already started promoting it because infected males have higher risk of developing genital warts and cancers in the reproductive organs. Also considering that HPV can be passed on via sexual contact, males getting vaccinated can help lower the risk of cervical cancer.
  3. The protection is not comprehensive?
    Indeed, the vaccines do not provide 100% prevention from the virus. But as HPV could be fatal, we should lower the risk as much as possible. Likewise, wearing a safety belt doesn’t guarantee zero injuries in car accidents but it’s still safer to buckle up, isn’t it?
  4. The vaccines are not safe?
    On the contrary, they are very safe. Some countries even subsidise young girls to get vaccinated. The side effects are usually minor and limited, such as swelling and pain around the injection site, but these would usually subside in a day or two.

Dr. Henry Kong
Specialist in Public Health Medicine

¹ Hong Kong Cancer Registry《Cervical Cancer in 2016》: http://www3.ha.org.hk/cancereg/pdf/factsheet/2016/cx_2016.pdf

² Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society《Cervical Cancer》: https://www.hkacs.org.hk/ufiles/CervicalCancer.pdf

³ The University of Hong Kong《HKU study finds women in HK hold positive attitude to HPV testing》: https://www.hku.hk/press/press-releases/detail/c_8209.html

⁴ The Chinese University of Hong Kong《CUHK Reveals the Key to a Successful HPV Vaccination Programme》: https://www.cpr.cuhk.edu.hk/tc/press_detail.php?id=2897