Research shows HPV vaccine has almost wiped out cervical disease

04 April 2019

Ground-breaking research into the impact of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine given to schoolgirls in Scotland has revealed it has almost wiped out all cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women.

Glasgow Caledonian University’s Senior Research Fellow Dr Kevin Pollock is one of the lead researchers in the study championing the impact of the vaccine along with academics from Universities of Strathclyde, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Recent studies suggest that HPV also plays a part in causing other cancers, particularly head-and-neck, vulvo-vaginal and anal cancers.

All girls can get the HPV vaccine free on the NHS from the age of 11 up to their 18th birthday. It helps protect them against cervical cancer and was introduced a decade ago.

Dr Pollock, who became a Trustee at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust - partly due to a close friend being diagnosed as terminally ill - and is a member of the Scottish HPV Investigator’s Network (SHINe), said the findings show the impact of the vaccine on knocking out cervical pre-cancer has exceeded expectations.

The research report, published in the British Medical Journal, shows that routine vaccination of girls at age 12-13 with the HPV vaccine has led to a dramatic reduction in cervical pre-cancer.

Dr Pollock said: “The conclusion is that the vaccine has exceeded expectation. It is associated with near elimination of both low and high grade cervical disease in young Scottish women eight years after the vaccine programme started. The uptake of the HPV vaccine in Scotland is about 90 per cent.

“The figures are impressive and show a reduction of up to 90% of cervical disease abnormalities – pre-cancerous cells. These data are consistent with the reduced circulation of high-risk HPV infection in Scotland and confirm that the HPV vaccine should significantly reduce cervical cancer in the next few years. Indeed, cervical cancer cases in women aged 20-24 have reduced by 69% since 2012.

“We thought that when we first started the programme, the vaccine would knock out the two types which cause 80 per cent of pre-cancerous conditions but because it knocks out these other three types, it is nearer 90 per cent of cervical pre-cancer in Scotland.

“The main message is that the vaccine works. As long as the high uptake continues, the virus has got nowhere to go and it is being eliminated. Our study involved women who went along for their first cervical screen from 2008-2016. We assessed 140,000 women in this study and because we can link status of vaccination to the disease its impact is indisputable.”

The research collaboration also involved NHS Scotland organisations - Health Protection Scotland, the Information Services Division and the Scottish Human Papillomavirus Reference Laboratory.