The British Department of Health's marketing campaign to school girls and their parents for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program has so far proven to be one of the most successful in the world - except in London.
A Healthcare Protection Agency report shows an average uptake rate for three HPV doses in Year 8 schoolgirls aged 12-13 years across London of 76%, compared with the national (England) average of 84%. While many London boroughs achieve high uptake rates, those in Barnet, Kingston, City&Hackney, Camden, and Kensington&Chelsea fall 20-30% below the national average for uptake of all three HPV vaccine doses amongst 12 to 13 year old girls in the 2010/2011 school year.
It is estimated that 70-80% of women may have been infected with HPV in their lifetime. HPV can cause cervical cancer and also some other conditions in both men and women. Cervical cancer kills over 900 women each year in the UK. HPV is very common and transmitted through genital contact and 90% of infected women will clear the infection on their own but it is not possible to predict which infections will be cleared and which will progress to disease and perhaps cancer. There are an estimated 200 different HPV types.
Robert Music, Director of London based charity, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said, "With research showing that an 80 per cent uptake of the HPV vaccine year on year could see a two thirds reduction in cervical cancer incidence in women under 30 by 2025, it will make a real difference if girls continue to have all three doses of the vaccine. We would therefore like to encourage parents of both the girls who are eligible for the schools programme to ensure their daughters get the vaccine to help protect themselves against cervical cancer, but also remind the parents of those who are no longer in year eight but aged 17 and below that they can still have the vaccine on the NHS for free."
In response to low uptake rates in London, a campaign - 123 Against HPV - has launched, funded by vaccine company Sanofi Pasteur MSD and involving advertising on the underground and bus routes across the city, as well as selected London radio and newspaper outlets. It aims to raise awareness amongst parents of girls eligible for the vaccine.