Free jabs urged amidsex and cancer fears

Local | Jane Cheung 7 Nov 2018

The government should offer HPV or human papillomavirus vaccinations for free and cooperate with schools to raise the rate of vaccination to 80 percent, Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers have suggested.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her policy address last month that female students would be given free HPV vaccinations starting from the 2019/20 academic year.

The vaccination rate in Hong Kong is only about 7 to 10 percent.

The university's researchers said that by cooperating with schools, the rate can be raised to 80 percent. They also said they saw positive results after CUHK cooperated with 30 schools, resulting in the vaccination of 4,000 students since 2011.

The team identified key facilitators to raise the low HPV vaccination rate in the SAR.

Albert Lee, director of the Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion, said parents have to be convinced that the vaccine is effective and safe before they would allow their daughters to be vaccinated.

"Whether parents have to pay or not is one of their important concerns but not the most important one," he said.

Lee said school girls are mostly willing to receive the injection once their parents have agreed.

"The consent of parents is even more important than a doctor's recommendation to drive girls into receiving the vaccination," he said.

"Information should therefore be aimed at parents as well."

Lee said more than 10 percent of parents were reluctant to have their daughters vaccinated for fear it would lead to sex at a young age.

The promotion of HPV vaccination should therefore go hand in hand with sex education.

"The school is an important setting for health information, as well as improvement of health literacy for both students and parents," he said.

CUHK said HPV vaccination is the ultimate protection against cervical cancer, as it protects women against the source of the disease - infection with the HPV virus.

"On average, a female dies of cervical cancer every 2.4 days in Hong Kong, and there's been no trend toward reduced incidence or mortality over the last 10 years," it said.

Paul Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of CUHK's department of microbiology, said vaccination is of vital importance as the SAR cannot rely solely on cervical screening to control cervical cancer.

Although he welcomed Lam's decision to introduce HPV vaccination through a school-based program, he said the government should be cautious when designing the scheme.

"Several countries have failed to implement national HPV vaccination programs," he said.

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