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HPV school vaccination programme ‘huge success’ in deprived groups

The NHS HPV vaccine programme prevented three times as many cases in the most deprived groups than in the least, but Cancer Research UK warns more work is needed to improve health inequalities
HPV vaccine is much more effective when taken up by people in year 8 (aged 12-13) than later in life

The NHS HPV vaccination programme is preventing the highest number of cervical cancer cases in the most deprived groups, according to a new study by Queen Mary University (QMU), London.

Funded by Cancer Research UK, the study found that the vaccine is reaching people across the socio-economic spectrum, particularly benefiting deprived groups who have higher rates of cervical cancer incidence.

Professor Peter Sasieni, lead author of the QMU study, said: ‘Historically, cervical cancer has had greater health inequalities than almost any other cancer and there was concern that HPV vaccination may not reach those at greatest risk. Instead, this study captures the huge success of the school-based vaccination programme in helping to close these gaps and reach people from even the most deprived communities.’

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The HPV vaccination programme was first introduced for girls aged 12-13 in England in 2008. Since September 2019, the vaccine has also been available to boys of the same age. Anyone who missed their vaccine can request it through the NHS up to the age of 25. 

Scientists at QMU analysed cancer data from NHS England for vaccinated and unvaccinated women aged 20-64. They found that more cases were prevented in the most deprived group (around 190), compared to the least deprived group (around 60).

They attribute this to the school-based vaccination programme, as the vaccine is much more effective when taken up by people in year 8 (aged 12-13) than later in life.

However, Cancer Research UK has warned that even though the HPV vaccine currently reaches people from all backgrounds, inequalities remain in cervical cancer incidence and more work is needed to improve the health of the most deprived groups.

Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, Sophia Lowes, said: ‘Every year, around 3,300 people receive a cervical cancer diagnosis in the UK. This research shows us that HPV vaccination works, and increased coverage can help to bring about a future virtually free from this disease.

‘But we can't lose momentum. We're calling for targeted action to ensure that as many young people as possible get the lifesaving HPV vaccine. Better reporting on uptake by deprivation and ethnicity, along with more research, will help us understand how to reach those most at risk.’