One dose of the HPV vaccine, which causes uterine cancer, offers people under 21 similar protection to two doses, the WHO Vaccination Policy Expert Committee said on Monday.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a sexually transmitted infection with the papilloma virus. Vaccines have been available since the mid-2000s.
One dose instead of two
In view of the latest data, the expert panel of the World Health Organization (WHO) now considers a single dose to be sufficient to protect 9- to 14-year-olds and also 15- to 20-year-olds instead of the previous two.
These new recommendations should allow more girls and women to be vaccinated “while maintaining the required level of protection,” said the committee’s chair, Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, at a press conference. However, national immunization programs can continue to use two doses if they deem it necessary, he said.
Two doses six months apart for women over 21
In addition, WHO experts continue to recommend two doses six months apart for women over the age of 21. “We recommend giving at least two or even three doses to immunocompromised people, especially people living with HIV, so that they are fully immunized,” emphasized Alejandro Cravioto.
More than 340,000 women died from cervical cancer in 2020. It is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. “About every two minutes, a woman dies from this disease,” said the chair of the WHO committee. About 90% of new cases and deaths worldwide in 2020 occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
“Eliminating cervical cancer is possible”
“I firmly believe that eliminating cervical cancer is possible,” said Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, WHO Deputy Director-General, in a statement. “This single-dose recommendation has the potential to move us faster towards our goal of vaccinating 90% of girls aged 15 by 2030,” she said. In 2020, global coverage with a 2-dose schedule was only 13%.
According to the WHO, several factors have contributed to the vaccine’s slow introduction and low immunization coverage in some countries, including supply difficulties, the relatively high cost of the vaccine, and the difficulty in giving two doses to adolescent girls who are not normally involved in childhood immunization programs be included. “The single-dose vaccine option is less expensive, less resource-intensive and easier to administer,” summarized Princess Nothemba Simelela.