'Encouraging' uptake in HPV vaccination trial

In collaboration with the Press Association

Around seven in ten girls will be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) when it is introduced in the autumn, a new study suggests.

A pilot study led by researchers from the University of Manchester saw two primary care trusts deliver the HPV vaccine to secondary schools in their surrounding areas.

The parents of 2,817 girls aged between 12 and 13 had the opportunity to take part in the trial as part of an effort to predict take-up for the forthcoming national immunisation programme and assess how easy it is to administer the vaccine to adolescent girls.

Results of the study show that 70.6 per cent of the eligible girls received the first vaccine and 68.5 per cent the second.

Three doses are needed - an initial jab and then boosters after one and six months for the vaccination, which prevents two types of HPV linked with 70 per cent of cervical cancers, to be effective.

"These are encouraging results for the forthcoming national HPV vaccine programme but the final criterion for success will be the proportion of girls who receive all three vaccine doses," the researchers conclude.

Of the parents who refused to allow their daughters to receive the vaccination, 36 per cent said they had been influenced by a lack of available information and doubts over its long-term safety, ten per cent were worried that the girls were too young and three per cent thought the vaccine could have a bearing on future sexual behaviour - as HPV is transmitted sexually, there are concerns the vaccine could encourage promiscuity.

Researchers also found that delivery of the vaccine posed some problems, largely as a result of the fact that it was administered at the start of the academic year, when schools are particularly busy.

In addition, 16.3 per cent of girls missed their first appointment and 23.6 per cent their second - leading to scheduling difficulties.

Dr Jo Waller, a health psychologist with Cancer Research UK, commented: "This study provides encouraging evidence that it is possible to achieve acceptable uptake of the first two doses of the HPV vaccine in a school-based programme. But it highlights the logistical challenges of delivering a three dose vaccine to girls, some of whom may not be at school for the scheduled immunisation sessions."

She added: "It also suggests that a significant minority of parents may not provide consent for their daughters to be vaccinated. The reasons for this need further investigation."

The study appears in the British Medical Journal Online.