Preventing Cervical Cancer: The NPHCDA Reports Vaccinating More Than 3.9 Million Girls with HPV Vaccine

Busy Bee
Busy Bee November 10, 2023
Updated 2023/11/10 at 11:26 PM

Since the Federal government initiated the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination campaign against cervical cancer in October, more than 3.9 million girls aged 9 to 14 years in Nigeria have received the HPV vaccine. The government incorporated the HPV vaccine into its routine immunization program in October, with the goal of reaching 7.7 million girls in this age group, providing them with a single vaccine dose.

During a virtual discussion titled “Cervical Cancer and HPV Vaccination: Matters Arising,” Dr. Garba Rufai, the Acting Director of Disease Control and Immunization at the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), revealed that no serious adverse events had been reported among the vaccinated individuals. He represented Dr. Muyi Aina, the Executive Director/CEO of the NPHCDA, and discussed “The Role of the NPHCDA in Mitigating the Challenges and Bottlenecks around Vaccines and Mass Vaccination Programs in Nigeria.”

Dr. Rufai stated, “We have already commenced vaccination in 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, with only three states left to begin. The vaccines have been well-received, with some states experiencing high demand for them. We have vaccinated nearly 3.9 million girls across these 12 states, and we may cross the four million mark by the end of today (Friday).

When Kano state starts, we will approach a total of five million vaccinated individuals. Remarkably, we have not encountered a single Serious Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) among all these vaccinations. This means that despite administering approximately four million doses, we have not observed any serious side effects, including the common early ones we typically encounter.”

Dr. Rufai acknowledged that there were initial challenges in disseminating information about the vaccine but assured that the government is fully committed to ensuring the success of the vaccination campaign

“Introducing a vaccine involves a structured process with various activities in place. We are focused on capacity building and reaffirming our understanding of vaccines, their functions, and potential adverse effects. The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and NAFDAC are continuously monitoring vaccine safety. This monitoring system is not exclusive to the HPV vaccine but extends to other vaccines like polio, measles, and pentavalent vaccines,” he stated.

Professor Rose Anorlu, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, highlighted the vaccination’s purpose, which is to prevent cervical cancer. In her presentation titled “Cervical Cancer:

The Right Communication for Prevention,” she emphasized that cervical cancer screening has been proven to reduce the disease’s prevalence. Anorlu, who leads the Oncology & Pathological Studies at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, argued that cervical cancer ranks fourth in global cancer prevalence. She stressed that the HPV vaccine is the primary preventive measure for the disease.

“Mathematical models suggest that the vaccine can provide protection for up to 20 years without requiring a booster dose. A single dose is equally effective as two or three doses, but it is uncertain if the vaccine can offer lifelong protection. Creating awareness about a disease is crucial for prevention. It is more accurate to say ‘cervical cancer screening’ than ‘screening for cervical cancer.’

These terms have different meanings. Cervical cancer screening is aimed at detecting precancerous conditions of the cervix. It is not meant to detect invasive cervical cancer; instead, it is designed to identify precancerous changes, which can be easily treated, with over a 90 percent cure rate, preventing the development of invasive cervical cancer.”

Renowned virologist and former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Professor Oyewale Tomori, expressed concerns that Nigeria has not done enough to combat misinformation and misconceptions surrounding the HPV vaccine. In his presentation titled “Vaccine Apathy: What Else to do Differently,” Tomori emphasized that Nigeria has not adequately addressed the issue, leaving gaps in information that have been filled with rumors and false information.

“On the matter of HPV vaccination, have we done enough? I believe not. Given the current spread of misinformation, we have fallen short. We have left information gaps, and rumors and false information have filled those gaps.

The introduction of HPV vaccination information should have started at least six or seven months ago. What the government is currently doing is a reactive approach. We must learn from past experiences and continually update our information. We should stay ahead of the rumor-mongers and aggressively counter fake news and rumors. It’s an internal battle, and we must remain proactive. The information provided must be accurate and comprehensive.”

The event was organized by the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria (NRHJN) with support from Marie Stopes International of Nigeria (MSION).

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