Review finds HPV vaccine safe, effective – Expert Reaction

A Cochrane review of 26 studies across 73,000 women has found the HPV vaccine effectively protects young women against cervical lesions.

Pap smear, Ed Uthman, Flickr CC.

The vaccine is particularly effective when given between the ages of 15 and 26, but the review noted it appeared less effective in older women. The review also found the vaccine did not appear to increase the risk of serious side effects.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the review.

Associate Professor Nikki Turner, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland; director, Immunisation Advisory Centre, comments:

“This Cochrane review graded the current international evidence for both effectiveness and safety data internationally of the HPV vaccines, and the vaccines come out in the evidence base as both effective and safe. There are no surprises, as we have seen now from countless studies the vaccine is highly effective against the precursors of cervical cancer when used in adolescents or younger woman. The language here is ‘high certainty evidence’.

“It is interesting that this year the international science community is actually talking about the possibility of eradicating cervical cancer – it is incredible to even consider this is feasible and a strong testament to the effectiveness of these vaccines. Clearly the data on effectiveness in women over 26 years is much weaker as so many more in this age group are likely to have already been exposed to HPV virus: However, where there is no evidence of exposure it is likely to still have an effect.

“The safety profile continues to be excellent. The authors do note the limited data as yet on pregnancy outcomes. On the pregnancy outcome side, I note our own publication last year using NZ data that demonstrated those who had prior vaccination with HPV vaccine had a significantly reduced risk of preterm birth [study here]. The biological plausibility of this finding is possibly related to reducing placental infections. If there is an association with improved birth outcomes this will make the effectiveness of this vaccine even more impressive.

“This is an incredible modern vaccine with a huge potential to make an international difference. The WHO is strongly recommending every country introduce it. Sadly the inverse care law has applied to date, where high income and many middle-income countries have introduced the vaccine, but many lower-income countries are still struggling to. Young women internationally deserve to have access to this vaccine.”

No conflict of interest.