"I've vaccinated 1000s of teens." A nurse's plea to parents to help end HPV-related cancers.

Australian Government - Department Of Health
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Immunisation nurse Caroline Scott has been working within the School Vaccination Program in Western Sydney since 2003.

In her 17 years “at the pointy end of the program”, she has delivered thousands of vaccinations to teenagers. So many, in fact, that she has lost count.

“Over these years, I can’t imagine how many teenagers I’ve vaccinated,” Caroline tells Mamamia. “But it would be in the thousands – probably tens of thousands.”

As part of a team of nurses who visit more than 100 high schools at least three times a year, Caroline has seen first-hand how vaccinations can make a positive, even lifesaving difference to young people.

One such vaccination is the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV) which, since the vaccine’s introduction in 2007, has shown to be very effective, including greater protection for many more people against preventable cancers.

What is HPV?

“Human Papillomavirus or HPV is a very common virus. It can occur in 90 per cent of unvaccinated adults,” Caroline tells us.

“The virus is spread through sexual contact and can cause an infection around the genital areas in both men and women. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and don’t know they have an infection. But in some men and women the virus can cause serious diseases: cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis or throat. Genital warts are also caused by the HPV virus.”

The HPV vaccine on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) protects against nine strains of HPV that cause over 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women, up to 90 per cent of HPV-related cancers in men and approximately 95 per cent of genital warts. Since the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, HPV-vaccinated women still need to have regular cervical screening.

Cervical cancer could be eliminated by 2035, if we’re vigilant.

Caroline says that “over the last 10 years there has been a 90 per cent reduction in genital warts amongst young Australians aged between 15 to 20 years, and also a steady decline in the detection of cervical cancer abnormalities in younger women” due to the HPV vaccination program.

And it’s not only the recipient of the vaccination that benefits but also any future sexual partners.

“If we continue and increase our vaccination uptake for HPV there is a potential to eliminate cervical cancer in Australia by 2035,” Caroline explains.

Not only are there medical advantages of the HPV immunisation but Caroline also says that “school vaccination is an ideal opportunity for youth to engage with health professionals, maybe for the first time on their own, in a safe and empowering environment”.


How teens can be vaccinated against HPV.

Caroline Scott has delivered thousands of vaccinations to teenagers.

The National Immunisation Program provides two doses of the HPV vaccine free to all adolescents aged 12 to 13 years. Catch-up vaccinations are also available for adolescents up to the age of 19, however three doses are required for those who have turned 15 and the third dose would need to be purchased with a doctor’s prescription, costing about $150.

“The HPV vaccines are routinely given at school around Australia, in either Year 7 or Year 8 depending in which state you live. This age group has a more efficient immune system, so they only need two doses of vaccine, six months apart. To get the best protection the vaccine should be given before the start of any sexual activity,” Caroline explains.

To have the vaccination administered, signed consent forms are required.

"Consent forms are given to high school students at the beginning of the year to take home," Caroline adds. "For vaccinations to take place, parents or carers need to return a signed consent form to school."


Caroline’s message to parents about HPV.

“It’s understandable for parents to feel unsure about their teenager receiving the HPV vaccine,” Caroline says.

Her advice is for parents to:

1. Firstly, read all the information supplied with their child’s vaccination consent form, usually sent home from school with their child. There are many trustworthy websites provided in this material for further reading, including online videos for parents to watch with their child.

2. If parents still have concerns, they can contact the immunisation provider for further explanation – telephone numbers are usually provided in the consent material.

3. Remember that immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases that can cause serious health problems.

And remember, the vaccine is very safe.

"HPV is a safe vaccine, and like all vaccines has potential side effects," Caroline explains. "The most common side effects are usually mild and short-lived, such as injection site pain, redness and swelling. Some teens can develop headaches, tiredness, and a fever. Dizziness and possible fainting episodes can occur too, but again this can be a normal response for some teens having vaccines. Severe side effects are extremely rare."

To reduce these common side effects, "teens need to eat and drink well before and after vaccination, and to keep moving their vaccinated arm to lessen injection site discomfort. If parents have concerns, they can visit their local doctor", Caroline adds.

But reassuringly, all immunisation providers are trained to manage such events and in school vaccination clinics all students remain in the vicinity of the nurse immunisers for at least 15 minutes after receiving their vaccine.

Caroline and her fellow nurses are especially proud to administer such an important service to young people, and give both them and their parents peace of mind.

"In this year, the International Year of the Nurse, I’d like to acknowledge all nurse immunisers around Australia for their patience and commitment in reaching out to our youth and putting them at ease on vaccination day by answering their two most popular questions: 'Does it hurt?' and 'How big is the needle?'" she concludes.

For more information about HPV for parents and teens, click here.

Feature image: Supplied.

Australian Government - Department Of Health

You can prevent HPV related cancers and diseases by making sure your child/children get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is provided free in schools for child/children aged approximately 12-13 years. It's two injections six months apart. The HPV vaccine is very safe, and has been offered in Australia since 2007. Complete and return the consent form provided by your child's school so they can receive their vaccine. Click here to find out more