Singapore—The Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday, March 6, that it will start offering the HPV vaccination against cervical cancer next month to girls in Sec 1. Singaporean physicians are welcoming this move, though parents still need to agree to the vaccination shot before their daughters may avail themselves of it.
Some parents believe that the vaccination may push their daughters to engage in sexual activity early since the vaccine renders them safe from various types of cervical cancer.
However, doctors are saying that research has shown that being vaccinated against diseases that are sexually transmitted does not promote promiscuity, and therefore the vaccines are seen as a positive step for female health in Singapore.
Free HPV vaccines
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced in Parliament that 200 women in the country have gotten cervical cancer every year from 2011 through 2015. On average, 70 of those women die.
Dr Khor said, “This cancer, which is caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), can be prevented with vaccination and screening.”
HPV can be transmitted via sexual contact. Normally, HPV vaccines can cost at least S$300. Three injections are administered over the course of six months. HPV strains cause not only cervical cancers but also certain types of vulval, vaginal and anal cancers. The vaccine is recommended to be administered to girls before they first become sexually active.
And now, girls in secondary schools in Sec 1 may be vaccinated for free, including those studying in madrasas. Older female students from Sec 2 through 5 will also be offered the vaccine as a one-time chance to catch up with the vaccination, which will be administered in schools.
Girls of roughly the same age in private schools may also avail of the free vaccine, provided they are residents of Singapore.
The Government allotted $10 million for this year’s HPV vaccines and $2.5 million every year thereafter.
Over 70 countries already have the HPV vaccine in their immunization programs, including Singapore’s closest neighbor, Malaysia.
Since HPV is acquired through sexual contact, Today reports that some parents are concerned that their daughters would be encouraged to initiate in these kinds of activities once they receive the vaccination, and therefore are reluctant to give consent. Other parents show concern over the side effects of the vaccine, which is still relatively new.
Both parents and their young daughters agree, however, that a good educational campaign about the HPV virus and cervical cancer would be helpful in increasing awareness and understanding about the disease.
Why doctors support the HPV vaccine
Today reports the president of the Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology of Singapore, Dr Joseph Ng, as saying, “Parents think that if you vaccinate, that’s going to give their kids license to be sexually promiscuous. However, that’s been shown to be untrue in the United States. We know (the vaccine) doesn’t change sexual behavior at all.”
He brought up the case of Hepatitis B vaccinations, which parents do not hesitate to have administered to their children, even though the disease is also sexually transmitted and is the cause of cancer.
“The fact is that there is no evidence that boys and girls who receive the vaccine have sex earlier than those who do not have the vaccine, nor do they have more sexual partners once they become sexually active,” said Associate Professor Chong Chia Yin, senior consultant at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
HPV vaccines have been available in Singapore for more than ten years, but awareness of it remains low, and not many people avail of it.
An infectious diseases specialist and president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, Professor Paul Tambyah, said, “Many young people do not think that they will be at risk of cancer many years later, or know that there is a vaccine which can prevent that.”
He added, “There are not many things in Singapore which are free. Hopefully, this will persuade many parents to get their girls vaccinated to protect them from cervical cancer.”