The latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) report on the routine adolescent human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme for 2021 to 2022, which is primarily delivered in schools, shows that coverage in year 8 and year 9 pupils is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The HPV vaccine is offered to all 12 to 13 year olds in school years 8 and 9 and follows a 2-dose schedule. HPV vaccine coverage decreased by 7% in year 8 girls and 8.7% in year 8 boys in 2021 to 2022 when compared to the previous academic year. The data suggests that the NHS has already caught up many children who missed out on their HPV vaccine since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with dose 1 uptake improving for children in year 9 and year 10, but coverage remains below pre-pandemic levels.
The UK HPV vaccination programme is one of the most successful in the world, with high uptake and millions of doses given since its launch in 2008.
The programme in England has been shown to have dramatically lowered rates of harmful infections and cervical cancer in vaccinated women, with the strongest effects seen in those vaccinated at younger ages, and is saving lives. HPV vaccination also protects against genital warts and other cancers of the genital areas and anus, as well as some cancers of the head and neck.
A study published in The Lancet in 2021 found that cervical cancer rates were 87% lower in young women who had been eligible for HPV vaccination when they were aged 12 to 13 years, compared to similar young women born a few years earlier who had not been offered vaccination, clearly showing the programme is preventing cervical cancers. Overall, the study estimated that the HPV programme had prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers up to mid-2019.
All the routine adolescent immunisation programmes have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and coverage is not back up to pre-pandemic levels. UKHSA is urging parents and guardians to ensure eligible young people are caught up with their HPV vaccine before they leave school.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "The HPV vaccine is available for girls and boys in year 8 and we encourage everyone eligible to take up this potentially life-saving vaccine when offered. In recent years we have seen vaccine coverage fall due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many young people who missed out on their vaccinations have already been caught up, but more needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated.
"Children and young people who have missed out on their HPV vaccinations should contact their school nurse, school immunisation team or GP surgery to arrange a catch-up – they remain eligible until their 25th birthday."