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Free HPV shots drive fight against cervical cancer

By TAN YINGZI and DENG RUI in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-14 09:09
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A girl receives a shot of HPV vaccine in Chongqing on Sunday. [Photo by Chen Shichuan/For China Daily]

Chongqing will offer free vaccinations against human papillomavirus to 180,000 female second-year junior high school students this year, as more Chinese cities join efforts to combat cervical cancer.

China has backed the global strategy of accelerating the elimination of cervical cancer, which was initiated by the World Health Organization in November 2020, according to the National Health Commission.

The strategy stipulates getting 90 percent of girls under 15 in 194 countries vaccinated with HPV vaccines by 2030, and set a target of eliminating cervical cancer through vaccination, screening and treatment.

Cervical cancer, which can be caused by HPV, is one of the most common and fatal cancers affecting women all over the world. It caused more than 60,000 deaths in China alone in 2020, and the number of new cervical cancer patients surpassed 110,000 that year, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Getting fully vaccinated is regarded as the most effective way to protect women from the disease, and the primary target of HPV vaccination in China is girls aged 13 to 15, the National Health Commission said.

According to the municipal government's work plan, Chongqing is offering a standard subsidy of up to 600 yuan ($88) per person, about the cost of the doses. It also provides the same subsidy for girls who prefer to use other types of HPV vaccines, which might be more expensive.

"I learned about HPV and its harmfulness from a school lecture as well as my parents, and I feel happy that a free vaccine is coming soon," said Zhao Lanxun, a second-grade student from Chongqing Bashu Secondary School.

So far, Liangjiang New Area and Yubei district in the city have launched the program.

Since Feb 11, many parts of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, have also launched a free HPV vaccination program for junior high school girls aged 13, according to local media.

According to a notice issued by the local health commission and the bureau of education, Xi'an is offering all types of HPV vaccines for the group on a voluntary basis.

In September, Xi'an became the country's first city to administer a 9-valent HPV vaccine to females aged 9 to 45, said Liu Li, an official from a health service center in the city's Xincheng district. Earlier, use of 9-valent vaccines was limited to females aged 16 to 26.

Liu said there is a huge demand for the 9-valent HPV vaccine among girls. "Now they have a wider range of choices."

To date, several districts including Xincheng, Beilin, Lianhu, Chang'an and Xixian New Area in the city have rolled out vaccination programs.

Some regions in the country have made early progress by launching free trial programs targeting junior high school students. In August 2020, Juungar Banner in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, became China's first area to offer free HPV vaccinations for female students aged 13 to 18. Many other areas have followed suit since.

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