The central government, which announced plans to encourage vaccinations against the human papilloma virus (HPV) through its immunisation programme, is exploring options to cap prices so that the vaccines to treat cervical cancer become more affordable, official sources have said.
Apart from slashing prices, the government will encourage HPV vaccination for cervical cancer through Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities, the sources said.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her interim budget presentation on February 1 said that the government will encourage vaccination for girls in the age group of 9-14 years for the prevention of cervical cancer in the country.
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable cancer but is also the third most common cancer with an incident rate of 18.3 percent and the second leading cause of death in India.
However, HPV in young girls is considered to be the most successful tool for cervical cancer prevention.
“HPV vaccination of young girls is the most remarkable and successful tool for cervical cancer prevention today. It is simple, safe, effective and feasible with existing infrastructure,” according to Dr Neerja Bhatla, Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.
For women over the age of 30, regular Pap smears and HPV tests can be helpful to prevent cervical cancer.
“Cervical cancer is a highly preventable cancer. Screening of women after the age of 30 with regular Pap smears and now with the HPV test is one strategy that has been successfully employed for several decades in developed countries but for universal coverage, it needs a lot of infrastructure and resources,” Dr Neerja said.
According to Dr Neerja, cervical cancer vaccination can be a game changer. Recently, AIIMS Delhi conducted a study that showed that even a single dose of vaccine until the age of 20 is beneficial.
“At AIIMS, we conducted and participated in trials that showed that the number of doses could be decreased from three to two doses, and more recently, our data has supported only one dose until the age of 20 years. Implementing universal HPV vaccination in the national programme will be a game changer for a major public health problem,” she said.
Following the Finance Minister’s Budget speech, Adar Poonawala, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, took to social media platform X to applaud the government’s announcement.
“I applaud the Indian government’s announcement to vaccinate girls aged 9-14 against cervical cancer. Let’s pledge to prevent HPV and ensure easy access to vaccination. Extending health cover for ASHA and Anganwadi workers, setting up more medical colleges, and streamlining maternal and child healthcare schemes demonstrate a holistic commitment to health,” he tweeted.
In 2022, Union Minister Jitendra Singh announced India’s first indigenously developed vaccine, “CERVAVAC” for the prevention of cervical cancer.
The National Technical Advisory Group for Immunisation (NTAGI) has recommended introduction of The quadrivalent Human Papilloma Virus (qHPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) with a one-time catch-up for 9-14 year-old adolescent girls followed with routine introduction at nine years.
The vaccination would be provided primarily through schools (grade-based approach: 5th-l0th). In order to reach those girls who are unable to attend school on the campaign day, the vaccination would be provided at a health facility while for out-of-school girls the campaign would be conducted through Community Outreach and Mobile teams
Dr Sheetal Agarwal, Gynaecologist at Cloud9 Hospital said that there are two types of cervical vaccines.
“Gardasil, which is a quadrivalent vaccine, is given in three doses at zero, two and six months intervals. The other is Cervarix, which is bivalent vaccine, is given at zero, one and six months interval. The cost of both these vaccines- three doses- is within Rs 10000 and they should generally be administered prior to start of sexual activity” she said.
Presently, the Serum Institute’s indigenous vaccine against cervical cancer, CERVAVAC, is available in the private market.
According to SII, it presently has a production capacity of around two- three million doses for the Cervavac vaccine. That said, the company plans to considerably expand this capacity, with a target of reaching 60-70 million doses and is priced at Rs 2000 per dose. (ANI)