All credit for my curiosity (and 90% knowledge) about HPV vaccinations goes to Dr. Tanaya Narendra, lovingly known as Dr. Cuterus, of Instagram fame. She was the first person I came across who was advocating the need to get vaccinated to prevent HPV. Her nudge was the primary reason I educated myself about the same.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the following isn’t official medical advice. Please consult your gynaecologist and do your own research before choosing to get vaccinated.
This post is an attempt to educate more people about the virus and ways to prevent its most deadly effects, simultaneously adding to the commendable work of pioneers like the aforementioned Dr. Cuterus in the movement of encouraging mass education about and vaccination against the virus.
What is HPV?
HPV is Human Papilloma Virus.
It has over 100 types or strains, some of which can cause genital warts and even cancer. Types 16 and 18 in particular are responsible for almost 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. Most other strains are said to be harmless.
Who can get infected?
Infection caused by HPV is quite common in India and while sexually active people are at the highest risk of being infected, it can show up without any intercourse as well. About 80% of all sexually active people, including those with only a single partner, will be exposed to HPV in their life. The worst bit is that there are usually no symptoms of such infection until it is too late.
What infections are possible?
Genital warts and different types of cancers are known infections caused by HPV. While cervical cancer is the most common type, the virus can cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or throat as well. This means that it can affect everyone and both women and men are at risk.
How do you protect yourself from HPV?
Get vaccinated. That is the answer.
Women can get vaccinated between ages 9-45. Some outdated data on the Internet might suggest that the age limit is 26 years but as of December 2022, the W.H.O. recommends that vaccination is safe until 45 years of age. For girls aged 13-15, 2 doses (second dose between 6 and 12 months after the first) are sufficient and for anyone older than that, 3 doses (at 0-1/2-6 months) are required.
The vaccine is gender-neutral and men are equally encouraged to take it.
While it works best to get vaccinated against HPV before any kind of sexual exposure, it is still useful and helpful to take the HPV vaccine once sexually active.
What options are available?
In India, three options are available.
- Gardasil – Approved by the FDA in 2006, this is the vaccine most commonly taken in India currently. It protects against nine HPV types (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58). However, it costs around INR 3500 per dose so if you’re past your early teens and are looking to get vaccinated, your total cost can run up to as much as INR 10,000! The doses are due at 0-2-6 months.
- Cervarix – This vaccine protects only against HPV types 16 and 18 (the cancer-causing strains). It costs around INR 2700 per dose. While its production has been discontinued now, the stock that had already been produced is still available. The doses are due at 0-1-6 months.
- Cervavac – This is India’s first indigenously made quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus vaccine (qHPV). It protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Developed by the Serum Institute of India (SII), it is expected to cost around INR 200-400 per dose, making it far more affordable for Indian citizens to get vaccinated against HPV. It is estimated that Cervavac shall become available to the public by April-May 2023.
Is it safe to take the vaccine?
After extensive medical study globally, the vaccine has been found to be extremely safe. However, there is a lot of misinformation regarding it and its (made-up) side effects. The most common (actual) side effects seen are minor pain, nausea, vomiting and these too are quite rare.
The W.H.O. lists cervical cancer as the fourth most common cancer among women globally. In India, more than 65,000 people die of cervical cancer every single year and this number is on the rise. The HPV vaccine is cutting cases of cervical cancer by nearly 90%. So, consult your doctor ASAP and take the first step to protect yourself from this preventable cancer!
If you do get vaccinated, do upload a story on Instagram with the #CuterusGotMeVaccinated because this post would have never existed without Dr. Tanaya’s initiative to educate us.