The HPV vaccine, which is given to teens to protect against cancer, reduces the risk of preterm birth in pregnant women, a new study suggests.
The vaccination protects against human papillomavirus, a group of viruses that cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
But Australian researchers say it may have more far-reaching benefits by lowering the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (APOs) in vaccinated women.
National statistics suggest that the vaccine has prevented more than 2,000 premature births in Australia since it was introduced to school children in the country in 2007.
Researchers said it lowered the risk of preterm birth in Australia by more than three percent and smaller than normal births of babies by nearly 10 percent.
The study has implications for the new generation of mothers in the UK who started the vaccine a year after Australia.
In the UK, the HPV vaccine has been routinely offered to girls ages 12 to 13 since 2008, but only to boys the same age as of September last year.
HPV, human papillomavirus virus, shown here as a 3D rendering, is the name given to a group of common viruses transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact
“These findings add to the weight of evidence behind the benefits of the HPV vaccine,” said Professor Karen Canfell, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Sydney and director of cancer research at the Cancer Council NSW.
In addition to preventing cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers, these findings show that the vaccine can also play an important role in reducing the rate of negative pregnancy outcomes and improving the quality of life for many women and children around the world. ‘
Human papillomavirus infection, spread through intimate contact, is known to cause most cervical cancers, as well as some mouth and throat cancers and cancers of the anal and genital areas.
The HPV vaccine is now given to all girls and boys in school year 8 and primarily protects against four strains of the disease known to be related to cervical cancer and genital warts (stock image)
THE HPV VACCINE: HERE IS HOW IT WORKS
Both the UK and Australian HPV vaccination programs use a vaccine called Gardasil.
The vaccine is made from small proteins that look like the outside of the true human papillomavirus (HPV).
It also contains aluminum, sodium chloride (salt), water, L-histidine, polysorbate 80 and borax to boost the immune system and keep the vaccine stable and suitable for injection.
The vaccine does not contain any live virus, or even killed virus or DNA from the virus, so it cannot cause cancer or other HPV-related diseases.
When the vaccine is given, the body makes antibodies in response to the protein to remove it from the body.
If a person is subsequently exposed to the real virus, the same antibodies can prevent it from entering the cells of the body, giving immunity.
The virus lurks in the basal cells below the surface of the skin or mucous membranes.
There are more than 100 different types of viruses, many of which live harmlessly on the body.
A small number of these viruses are called ‘high risk’ because they are linked to the development of cancer, such as cervical cancer, anal cancer, genital cancer and cancer of the head and neck.
In 2007, Australia was the first country in the world to introduce a national public HPV vaccination program, which allows girls and boys up to the age of 19 to receive two doses of the free HPV vaccine.
The vaccine protects against nine types of HPV that cause about 90 percent of cervical cancers in women, 95 percent of all HPV-related cancers in men and 90 percent of genital warts, according to the Australian government-backed program.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, about 80 percent of girls in Australia are immunized against the virus by the age of 15.
To look at the vaccine’s effects outside of cervical cancer rates, Professor Canfell and her colleagues studied data from the National Perinatal Data Collection, a national pregnancy and delivery database.
In England, girls and boys aged 12 to 13 are routinely offered the first HPV vaccination when they are in school Year 8
The team compared the rates of preterm births and births of ‘short gestational age’ – births of babies smaller than normal – born in Australia between 2000 and 2015.
Within the group of mothers who received HPV vaccination coverage, there was a relative decrease of 3.2 percent in preterm birth and 9.8 percent in infants of short gestation, after adjusting for the year of birth and age of the mother.
In total, the researchers estimate that about 2,000 Australian babies were saved from being born prematurely through their mother’s vaccine.
The researchers hope the findings provide a new incentive for parents to get their children vaccinated against HPV.
“This analysis provides preliminary evidence at population level of a decline in adverse pregnancy outcomes in cohorts of women who were offered HPV vaccination,” the team enrolls The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
“These findings indicate potentially wider benefits of HPV vaccination than have been documented so far.”
Professor Canfell also predicted that the HPV vaccine and cervical screening program will prevent more than 2,000 cases of cervical cancer in the next 15 years and save about 600 women’s lives.
However, cervical screening is also recommended independently of the vaccine.
“Cervical screening is recommended every five years from the age of 25, and we recommend that women be screened regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against HPV,” she said.
Cancer Council NSW said the vaccine is given routinely in school programs aged 12 to 13, although it has been temporarily interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The catch-up measures for children who have missed their planned vaccination during this period are expected to be implemented when it is safe to do so,” it said.
HPV VACCINE ROLLED OUT FOR TEEN BOYS IN ENGLAND
Boys in school year 8 received the HPV vaccine and girls in September 2019, 11 years after it was first introduced.
Health officials decided to extend the campaign to boys ages 12 and 13 and to prevent more than 100,000 cancers by 2058.
Men can get cancer from HPV and can also put women at increased risk of transmitting the virus through sexual contact.
Human papillomavirus occurs in more than 100 different strains and is normally harmless.
But about one in 20 cancers worldwide is linked to HPV, and the virus causes massive cancers of the genitals.
Cervical cancer can be traced back to HPV in 99 percent of cases, Public Health England said.
And that includes 90 percent of anal cancers, 70 percent of vaginal cancers and 60 percent of penile cancers.
While a large proportion of boys may be protected by immunization in girls, they can grow up to have sex with them, introducing the shot for boys and also ensuring protection throughout the population.
For example, those who grew up having sex with men, with women too old to receive the vaccine, or those who simply had not had the shot for other reasons were not protected.
Academics and medical organizations have welcomed the move as a “triumph for gender equality in cancer prevention.”
“By extending the HPV vaccine to boys, the NHS is taking an important step forward in our fight to prevent cancer,” said NHS National Cancer Director Cally Palmer.
“More people are better protected and the vaccine can help eliminate cervical cancer in this country.”