India has got its first homegrown cervical cancer vaccine which is expected to cost over 50 percent less than what is available in the market today. Vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute in collaboration with the government’s biotech department has developed a vaccine to protect against the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV, a virus which can cause cervical cancer.
This will be India’s first indigenous vaccine for cervical cancer. While GSK has discontinued their cervical cancer vaccine in India– Gardasil by MSD is available but priced at over 3000 per dose in the private market but available at a cheaper rate for government procurement.
Serum’s vaccine called CERVAVAC is expected to be priced between Rs 200-400 per dose. The vaccine is expected to be available in a few months.
More about the vaccine
To understand what the vaccine does, we need to understand a little more above the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV. HPV, which is a virus has multiple strains and your symptoms depend on which strain you are affected by.
HPV which is mainly contracted via sexual contact causes genital warts and precancerous lesions for both men and women. Some of these strains of the HPV are linked to multiple cancers and most commonly linked to cervical cancer in women.
While everyone who gets infected with HPV doesn’t necessarily get symptoms with the virus many times just going away, but when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. What the vaccines does is protect against this HPV virus.
The vaccine basically creates antibodies against the strains which are most likely linked to causing cancer. For example, CERVAVAC protects against cancer causing HPV types 16 & 18 which are responsible for around 83 percent of cervical cancer cases in India and type 6 & 11 which causes 90 percent of genital warts.
A little more about cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is surprisingly the second most frequent cancer amongst women in India. In fact, WHO estimates that India bears one fifth of the globe’s cervical cancer burden. The country today has 483.5 million women aged 15 to 44 years old who could eventually be at a risk of cervical cancer.
A few reasons for the high burden of cervical cancer in the country include the lack of awareness hence low screening such as regular Pap smear tests and factors such as early marriage, multiple children, poor hygiene and pre-existence of untreated sexually transmitted diseases.
Who can take the vaccine?
The vaccine can be taken by any one from the age of 9 to 26 years old. Yes, anyone. Both females and males are eligible to the take the vaccine.
Why males? Men cannot get cervical cancer, but the vaccine also protects against diseases other than cervical cancer which can affect males such as genital warts and certain other cancers like penile & anal, caused by HPV.
More importantly, males need to take the vaccine to eventually protect their female partners from contracting the HPV virus.
Is it better to take the vaccine earlier?
Ideally, the vaccine should be given before one starts sexual contact since it is a preventive vaccine against HPV infections which are mainly sexually transmitted.
Can anyone above the age of 26 take it? And who has had sexual contact?
Experts say Ideally it works best in those who have not made their sexual debut. However, in countries such as the US the vaccine has been licensed for use up to the age of 45 for both men and women.
Similarly, in India due to the high incidence of cervical cancers some doctors recommend that women aged between 9-45 take the vaccine. Lastly, whatever age and whether male or female, it is necessary to consult your doctor about taking the vaccine.
Lastly, a quick note
The most important point to remember is that today cervical cancer is a preventable cancer.
And yes, while vaccines are important, doctors also recommend that it is necessary for women to do regular pap smears , a test to check to the cells in the cervix, that too should probably become mandatory say experts. CNBCTV18