Maryam Audu, like several other residents of the Ado Community in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, participated in the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination following the official launch by the federal government on October 24, 2023. However, in contrast to her peers who were enthusiastic about receiving the vaccination, 13-year-old Miss Audu appeared visibly confused.
While standing in line with her schoolmates, patiently awaiting her turn for vaccination, Maryam’s expression raised concerns, prompting Vanguard to inquire about the source of her distress.
It was during this conversation that the JSS 3 student revealed her apprehensions.
“I am worried standing here because I don’t know my fate when I get home. Before coming here, my father had warned his daughters, including me, not to participate in this exercise. He mentioned that he heard this vaccine could potentially cause infertility in the future,” Maryam expressed.
Curious about her decision to go against her father’s advice, Vanguard questioned, “So if your father said that, why then are you here to get vaccinated? Is it that you don’t believe your father? Why are you here to take it as his daughter?”
Maryam responded, “Actually, I came to school without the intention of being vaccinated. However, when I saw every eligible girl in my class and school in the queue to receive the vaccine, I decided to join. My father is not a doctor, and I believe he does not have more knowledge of this disease than all these people (federal government and Gavi team) who are here to carry out this vaccination exercise.”
“I chose to disregard the comments made at home and decided to join others in receiving the vaccine,” said Maryam Audu. Her story highlights the fact that many eligible girls, misinformed by non-medical experts, failed to show up for vaccination. In contrast, those who were eligible gathered at Bakin-Ado Secondary School when a team from Gavi arrived to conduct the HPV vaccination exercise.
During the event, Luka Panya Baba, the Esu Karu and Chairman of the Karu Local Government Traditional Council in Nasarawa State, expressed confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. He mentioned that extensive communication efforts were made by traditional and religious leaders in the area to educate the community about the vaccine and its benefits.
“We appreciate Gavi. The Northern traditional leaders will ensure that we mobilize our young girls to take the vaccine because the benefit is for all of us. We do not doubt the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” stated Luka Panya Baba. He expressed hope that Nigeria’s success with the HPV vaccine would serve as a reference for other countries in the future.
Emily Kobayashi, Head of the HPV Programme at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, expressed delight at the turnout of eligible individuals at Bakin-Ado Primary and Secondary School. She commended the support from parents, traditional, and religious leaders who witnessed the vaccination exercise.
Mrs. Ene Faustina, a parent, brought her children to the vaccination site, emphasizing the importance of HPV vaccination. She shared, “I have lost someone to breast cancer, and this is a great privilege for me. So, I had to bring my children for the vaccination.”
Similar to Mrs. Faustina, numerous parents, whose schools were not initially designated for the vaccination campaign, brought their eligible daughters to the location for vaccination.
At the Junior Secondary School in Asokoro, Abuja, the HPV vaccination garnered considerable attention from eligible parents when the GAVI-led team paid a visit. Izzi Jaafaru Madaki, the School Principal, spoke to accompanying reporters, detailing how the school management actively engaged parents in discussions about the necessity of allowing their daughters to receive the vaccine for protection against cervical cancer.
Madaki mentioned that approximately 100 schoolgirls received parental approval to undergo the HPV vaccination.
“We’ve educated them about the vaccine’s significance and urged them to seek approval beforehand. Today, most of them received the green light from their parents. While the vaccine isn’t mandatory, its importance cannot be overstated. It’s a crucial step in safeguarding our children against cervical cancer, a prevalent concern in our country. We must take preventive measures,” she emphasized.
HPV vaccines play a vital role in preventing infection by certain strains of the human papillomavirus, a widespread sexually transmitted infection known to cause various conditions in both men and women, including cervical cancer.
The vaccination campaign specifically targets over seven million girls aged nine to 14, marking the most extensive single round of HPV vaccination in the African region.