By Ibrahim Sorie Koroma
The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with its partners, through the Child Health and Expanded Programme on Immunization (CH-EPI) is planning to switch from double HPV vaccine dose to single dose and from single age cohort of 10 years old girls to Multiple-Age Cohorts (MAC) vaccination of eligible girls (10-18), as a preventive measure for Cervical Cancer.
This was revealed during a 5 day stakeholders meeting held in Makeni last week. It could be recalled that the Ministry of Health in October 2022 introduced the HPV vaccine into the routine immunization system in the form of a vaccination roll-out campaign targeting girls, 10 years of age.
During the campaign roll-out, the first dose of HPV vaccine was administered to over 500,000 eligible girls who could have also taken their second dose after 6 months from the time of the first administered dose.
However, this has changed with the new arrangement; switching from double HPV vaccine dose to single vaccine and from single age cohort (10 years) to Multi-Age Cohorts (10-18 years).
Pointing out the reason for the switch, Dr. Desmond Maada Kangbai of the Child Health and Expanded Programme on Immunization (CH-EPI) said that further research and evidence gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other professional health bodies, on the efficacy and effectiveness of the vaccine, have shown that just one dose of the HPV vaccine can provide life-long protection against cervical cancer for girls when given at the right age cohort.
Dr. Kangbai continued that the switch is cost effective as it makes it possible to provide for more girls. “Just imagine, the HPV vaccine was introduced with the hope of giving 2 doses to a girl and now with the switch, 2 doses can be given to 2 eligible girls instead of 2 vaccine doses per girl, you see how more girls would benefit from the lifesaving vaccine,’’ Dr. Kangbai averred.
Talking about the future vaccination plan, Dr. Kangbai said with the switch to a single dose and Multiple-Age Cohorts, they are planning for a nationwide HPV vaccination roll-out campaign sometime next year in which girls 10-18, both in and out of schools, will be vaccinated against Cervical Cancer.
He reiterated that cervical cancer is the second cause of deaths of women in Sierra Leone after breast cancer further emphasizing the severity of Cervical Cancer.
Dr. Kangbai referenced that according to the Sierra Leone Cancer Registry the country records 515 new cervical cancer cases and 372 deaths each year, adding that this data may not be accurate because of underreporting but they however rely on it for planning.
Talking of prevention, he assured that vaccination of girls at an early age is the most effective as it prevents them of having cervical cancer later in life, adding that cervical cancer is a serious disease that affects women but they are shy to talk about it because of stigma which can lead to psychological issues.
“So, prevention through vaccination for girls is key,” he said also encouraging older women to go for cervical cancer screening as it can also help to prevent and lay the foundation for treatment stressing how all that are part of the elimination strategy for cervical cancer in Sierra Leone.