Cervical cancer: What is the right age to take the HPV vaccine?

Cervavac, India’s first quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (gHPV), recently received a nod for market authorisation by the Drugs Controller General of India. Developed by the Serum Insitute of India, it is intended to treat cervical cancer in women in an “affordable” and “accessible” manner.

Cervical cancer, a malignant tumour of the cervix, is the second most common cancer among women in India, especially in the rural areas, Dr Niti Raizada, Director – Medical Oncology and Hemato-Oncology, Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore, said.

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“Caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), the infection occurs very early in life – when the child starts getting reproductive maturity. If an HPV vaccine is administered, it confers protection against the infection,” she added.

What’s the best age group to take the vaccine? It’s between 11 to 26 years, experts say.

Dr Sandeep Nayak P, Director – Department of Surgical Oncology and Robotic and Laparoscopic Surgery, Fortis Hospitals, Bengaluru, said, “The best age to take HPV vaccine is 11-12 years, for both boys and girls. It can be taken up to the age of 26. However, above that age (up to 46yrs), the benefit is minimal and is given only under specific conditions. I would personally suggest it for teenagers only.”

Explaining the same, Dr Raizada added, “It does provide protection at a later stage, but it is much less. Ideally, the age for HPV vaccination is 9 to 25 years. After that, it is optional.”

Elucidating the difference in vaccine efficacy with age, Dr Shweta Goswami, Gynecologist and IVF expert at Zeeva Fertility, said, “If the vaccine is taken between 9 to 14 years, it is 90 per cent effective in preventing HPV 16 and 18 infection. The efficacy to prevent HPV infection drops to about 60 to 70 per cent if the vaccine is taken at an older age, say after 25 years.”

Cervical cancer, a malignant tumour of the cervix, is the second most common cancer among women in India (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

It is mainly because the vaccine works best “when the person is not exposed to HPV yet,” Dr Nayak shared. “Since most sexually active people are exposed to HPV, the benefit is limited. The HPV vaccine does not eliminate the HPV infection if it is already there; it only helps prevent it. For this reason, it is important that the vaccine is given at a younger age.”

Agreed Dr Goswami and said, “This vaccine is a prophylactic vaccine and works better when there is no sexual exposure. So, if the vaccine is taken between 9 to 14 years, there are fewer chances of the girl having been exposed to HPV infection or virus, therefore, the vaccine offers higher protection against HPV infection or virus. If the female takes the vaccine at an older age, then there are chances that she has already been exposed to HPV infection or virus, in such cases, the vaccine’s effectiveness drops to some level.”

Possible side effects

Here are some side effects of the vaccine, according to the expert.

*Local reactions at the site of injection like pain, redness, or swelling in 20 per cent to 90 per cent of recipients.
*Fever of 100°F during the first 15 days after vaccination in 10 per cent of recipients.

“So far, no serious adverse events have been associated with any HPV vaccine,” he added.


Highlighting that HPV can also spread “through toilets” apart from the usual sexual root, Dr Nayak said, “It is mainly associated with poor hygiene. It is very important to maintain sexual and personal hygiene.”

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