Doctors in Singapore would like to see more girls and young women getting a vaccine that can drastically cut their risk of getting cancer of the cervix.
The two vaccines on the local market can prevent more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers. Because of their efficacy, the Ministry of Health (MOH) allows people to use Medisave to pay for the injections.
In the past two years, close to 10,000 people a year have used Medisave to offset the cost of the jabs, a ministry spokesman said.
Both vaccines – Cervarix and Gardasil – offer protection against two major strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which cause about 70 per cent of cervical cancers. Type 16 is responsible for 53.5 per cent and type 18 causes 17.2 per cent of cervical cancers, said Associate Professor Jeffrey Low, head and senior consultant at the Division of Gynaecologic Oncology at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore.
Both vaccines protect against types 16 and 18 although Gardasil also covers types 6 and 11, which are responsible for 90 per cent of the cases of genital warts.
“In terms of efficacy against types 16 and 18 HPV, Gardasil and Cervarix are both equally effective,” said Prof Low.
Dr Timothy Lim, head and senior consultant at the Department of Gynaecological Oncology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said that while the vaccines are recommended for females aged nine to 26, they should be given before the age of 16, when immunological response is robust.
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“The chances of a woman being infected by both HPV types 16 and 18 increases with age, and the ability of an individual to produce an immunological response to a vaccine wanes with age,” added Dr Lim.
Nonetheless, women who are already vaccinated should still go for regular screening.
Sexually active women should have a pap smear from age 25, and should repeat it at least once every three years until 65, said Dr Lim.
Human resource manager He Qing Pei, 26, who took the Gardasil vaccine about five years ago, said that being vaccinated makes her feel more reassured.
“But I also understand that it is not foolproof and that we should still get checks once every few years,” she added.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.