Monday, June 17, 2024

Disregard rumours, HPV vaccine safe, experts tell Nigerians

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By Angela Onwuzoo

Leading medical experts have asked Nigerians to disregard rumours going around about the Human Papillomavirus vaccine, assuring that the vaccine is safe and remains the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer.

The experts said Nigerians should take responsibility for their health and well-being and not allow misinformation from misinformed people to deny them access to the life-saving vaccine.

The senior health professionals urged them to confront the people who are providing misinformation aggressively against the vaccine.

The experts who spoke at a virtual meeting titled “Cervical Cancer and HPV Vaccination: Matters Arising’ organised by the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria, with support from Marie Stopes International of Nigeria, disclosed that there has been no record of serious Adverse Event Following Immunisation among the 3.9 million girls vaccinated so far.

The Federal Government, on October 24, introduced the HPV vaccine into the routine immunisation system to prevent cervical cancer among girls aged nine to 14 years.

The vaccination targets 7.7 million girls, which is the largest number in a single round of HPV vaccination in the African region.

The girls would receive a single dose of the vaccine, which is highly efficacious in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which are known to cause at least 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

However, mixed reactions have continued to trail the vaccine introduction.

In his presentation titled: ‘Vaccine Apathy: What Else To Do Differently,’ a renowned Professor of Virology and former Vice Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Oyewale Tomori, said Nigeria should learn from the COVID-19 vaccine experience and intensify awareness by providing Nigerians with facts about the safety of the HPV vaccines.

Tomori said the people are the most important factor to consider if there is an infection outbreak and so they need to have first-hand and credible information.
The virologist appealed to stakeholders to close the information gaps and continually sensitise Nigerians on the value of vaccination.

He explained, “Have we done all that we should do? From our experiences in the past like the polio and COVID-19 vaccine boycott, have we done enough?

“We assume that the people don’t know or that we know too much. Then with the little information we are giving our people, we leave gaps and they are filled with fiction.

“When COVID started, we were getting information. We never provided all the information and people filled that gap with fiction. The fiction travels faster than the few facts that we have.

“What lessons have we learnt or forgotten from the past? We need to be moving with the world with the way we are dealing with things. I heard about the rumours. We need internal vigilance.”

Tomori said stakeholders should not allow girls to be deprived of the HPV vaccine by sceptical groups and individuals some of whom also peddle conspiracy theories, urging them to knock the rumours with facts and aggressively too.

Continuing, he said, “We must confront the people that are providing misinformation aggressively. If you let it last for one day, it will spread to where you can never reach.
“This type of information must be put out for people to see because the cancer is available and it is causing harm. We want our people to know the danger we are putting ourselves in.

“Nigeria brought Africa back by three years during the polio time. Some boycotted the polio vaccine so Africa could not be polio-free. We must knock the rumours with facts and aggressively too.
“The most important people in disease eradication are the people. Make them aware of what they need to do for their own sake.”

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, in Nigeria, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 44 years.

In 2020, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, estimated that no fewer than 8,000 deaths resulted from the 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported in Nigeria.

On his part, the Executive Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr Muyi Aina, said no serious adverse events had been recorded among those vaccinated.

Aina, who was represented by Acting Director of Disease Control and Immunisation, NPHCDA, Dr Garba Rufai, in his presentation titled, “The Role of the NPHCDA in Mitigating the Challenges and Bottlenecks around Vaccines and Mass Vaccination Programmes in Nigeria,” revealed that the vaccines were being well received despite mix reactions.

“We have been able to start in 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and we still have three states that we are yet to commence. In some of these states, they are almost running out of vaccines, because they are being accepted in huge numbers.

“From these 12 states, we have almost vaccinated four million young girls, we are around 3.9 million plus and by the end of today (Friday), we might be crossing the four million mark. By the time Kano state starts, we would close out close to five million.

“In all of these numbers, we have not seen one serious Adverse Event Following Immunisation, AEFI, not one. It is remarkable being able to put about four million needles into people and none of the side effects, not even the early ones that we normally see have not happened”, he said.

A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Prof Rose Anorlu, said awareness of the disease is key in the prevention, noting that increased awareness was crucial in getting people to embrace the vaccine.

In her presentation “Cervical Cancer: The Right Communication for Prevention”, she said cervical cancer screening has been shown to reduce the rate of the disease.
Anorlu, who heads the Oncology & Pathological Studies, at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, said the HPV vaccine was the primary prevention for the disease.

The gynaecologist noted, “Mathematical models show that the vaccine can last up to 20 years without a booster dose. A single dose is equally as effective as two or three doses, but it is not yet known if the vaccine can give lifetime protection.

“Awareness of a disease is key in prevention. It is right to say cervical cancer screening than screening for cervical cancer. They do not mean the same thing. Cervical cancer screening is to detect the pre-cancer of the cervix.

“Screening is not for detection of invasive cervical cancer, it is for the detection of the pre-cancer of the cervix. The pre-cancer is easy to treat and treatment gives above 90 percent cure rate and prevents development of invasive cervical cancer.”

Earlier in her welcome remarks, President of the NRHJN, Yinka Shokunbi, said there have been stories on social media and a whole lot more short video recordings, even by Nigerians, warning mothers not to allow their young daughters to take the HPV vaccine.

Shokunbi said with the renewed call by the World Health Organisation to ensure cervical cancer is globally eliminated with mass vaccination programmes, “we are now seeing more forceful and orchestrated movements against HPV vaccination,” hence the need for the virtual summit.

She urged Nigerians to work with facts and not hearsay.

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