Sharp drop in number of Dutch teenage girls getting HPV vaccination

Every year about 200 women die of cervical cancer in the Netherlands

 Cervical cancer cell: the Dutch government has been urged to  to launch a public information campaign about the life-saving importance of the HPV vaccinations.

Cervical cancer cell: the Dutch government has been urged to to launch a public information campaign about the life-saving importance of the HPV vaccinations.

 

About 200 women die of cervical cancer in the Netherlands every year, but despite the death toll there’s been a sharp fall-off in the number of teenage girls being vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

The Dutch public health institute, RIVM, has warned that the drop of 15 percent in vaccinations of 13- and 14-year-old girls over the past two years is “extremely worrying” and that it could lead to as many as 80 unnecessary additional deaths a year.

The director of the state vaccination programme, Hans van Vliet, called on the government to launch an urgent public information campaign aimed at underlining the life-saving importance of the vaccinations, which have been available in the Netherlands since 2009.

The percentage of girls taking up the vaccine fell to a new low of just 45.5 percent last year – compared to the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of 95 per cent, the level which guarantees “group immunity” from the target disease.

“Cancer is a terrible illness. In this case, we have a good vaccination against the virus that causes it. And yet many parents are not making certain their teenagers avail of it,” he said.

Side effects

“This is another case where an illness that could be prevented is continuing to do damage and kill patients because people have misconceptions and erroneous opinions about vaccinations.”

The main reason teenagers do not avail of the HPV vaccination is fear of side effects, particularly chronic fatigue but including everything from dizziness to skin rashes. Independent research in the Netherlands and separately in the UK has failed to substantiate any link.

Like the Netherlands, Ireland also has a high rate of cervical cancer, with about 90 deaths a year, and acceptance of the HPV vaccine has encountered similar difficulties since it was introduced for 12- and 13 year-olds in 2010.

In the 2014/15 school year in Ireland, 87 per cent of teenage girls of that age received the vaccinations, though that figure dropped sharply to 50 per cent the following year, before rising again to 62 per cent in 2017.

That increase only came about after the Irish Cancer Society warned that, statistically, at least 40 additional women would die as a result of the fall-off from 87 to 62 per cent – a drop caused at least partly, it said, by the spread of misinformation about the vaccine on social media.

Almost all sexually active humans carry some of the HPV’s 170 different strains. And although many of those strains are harmless, HPV also causes 90 per cent of cervical cancers, which between them claim the lives of more than 270,000 women worldwide every year, according to the WHO.