HPV vaccinations

Researchers have been keen to review the effects of HPV vaccinations in Australia for quite some time. This of course is to be expected, as Australia was the one of the first countries to introduce HPV vaccinations. Now, the most recent reports reflect some promising findings that experts argue are likely to be transferable to populations in the UK and the US.

The implementation of the nationwide HPV programme in Australia began in 2007. During this time, girls between the ages of 12-13 were given free vaccinations at school. Following this, another vaccination catch-up programme was initiated, whereby girls between the ages of 13 and 18, as well as women between the ages of 18 to 26, were given vaccinations.

In addition to that, a surveillance network was set up to monitor whether the vaccine would have an effect on the incidence of genital warts in patients at sexual health clinics. This included the participation of eight sexual health clinics in Australia.

The first report, which was published in 2009, indicated that there was a 59% reduction in genital warts in women. At this stage it was too early to analyse the data for all the women and girls that had been vaccinated. However, the second report, which was published two weeks ago, was able to build upon those findings. The second report indicated that the reduction of genital warts in women was up to 90%.

This was based on an in-depth comparison of patients who had been attending clinics before the vaccination period (between 2004 and 2007) and patients who had attended clinics during the vaccination period (between 2007 and 2011). For instance, during the pre-vaccination period, 10 per cent of the women attending clinics were diagnosed with genital warts. In the vaccination period it decreased to three per cent. Further exploration of the data suggested that the most dramatic differences were seen among younger women under the age of 21.

Given the clinical and research implications that arise from the findings, it is not difficult to understand why the results to date have been so well received in publications and editorials recently. Although clinical trials are the best way to establish the efficacy of any treatment, they are also often criticised for being too detached from the outside environment.

However, these reports corroborate findings from clinical trials and paint a clearer picture on the efficacy of HPV vaccinations. Having confirmation that a treatment is safe and effective is incredibly important when planning health care policies. This, in combination with the cost-effectiveness of the vaccination, is likely to have a substantial effect on sexual health in Australia. We are eagerly waiting to see whether the predictions will be materialised in the UK.