18 years of HPV vaccination – moving towards the elimination of cervical cancer

Monday 8th January 2024

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As Medical Writing Ltd celebrates 18 years in business, we look at the impact of a life-changing medicine introduced in 2006

As Medical Writing Limited celebrates 18 years in the medical communications industry, we looked back over the products we work on in 2006 and how things have changed. One of these was Gardasil, the first vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is extremely prevalent in the adult population, and prior to vaccine availability, almost everyone was expected to become infected over the course of their lifetime. Of particular concern, was HPV 16 and 18, which were first classified as carcinogenic to humans in 1995.

The large number of cervical cancer cases – up to 99% – believed to be caused by HPV 16 and 18 prompted the research and development of a vaccine, with the first being licensed in 2006 for girls and women aged 9 to 26. This vaccine protected not only against HPV 16 and 18, but also HPV 6 and 11, all of which cause approximately 90% of genital warts. Since then, the vaccine has been further refined to prevent infection by nine HPV types, which are associated with anogenital lesions in men and women but also include oropharyngeal and other head and neck cancers.

Eighteen years on, we are now starting to see the benefits of the global HPV vaccination programme. Ongoing monitoring has confirmed the efficacy and safety of the currently available vaccines. In addition, a 65% reduction in cervical cancer rates was reported between 2012 and 2019 for women aged 20–24. This was due in part to better cervical screening, but has also been accelerated by the successful HPV vaccination programme.

Currently, there are six licensed prophylactic HPV vaccines, which are over 90% effective in preventing infection by nine HPV types, seven of which are known to cause cancer.

The World Health Organization has set a 2030 target of 90% of girls to be fully vaccinated with an HPV vaccine by the age of 15.

In November 2023, NHS England set an ambitious target to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 by ensuring as many people as possible are vaccinated against HPV, while also coming forward for cervical screening.

The World Health Organization considers cervical cancer to be eliminated as a public health problem when there is an incidence rate lower than 4 per 100,000 women.