Advertisement
JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Cervical cancer survivor, Juliet Davis, is in support of the Health Ministry’s introduction of the bivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine being administered to thousands of grade-seven students across the island.
  • Mrs. Davis, who was first diagnosed with the cancer in 2009 at the age of 49, says the vaccine would have been useful in reducing her chances of getting the disease.
  • She also notes it would have enabled her to avoid the aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Cervical cancer survivor, Juliet Davis, is in support of the Health Ministry’s introduction of the bivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine being administered to thousands of grade-seven students across the island.

Mrs. Davis, who was first diagnosed with the cancer in 2009 at the age of 49, says the vaccine would have been useful in reducing her chances of getting the disease.

She also notes it would have enabled her to avoid the aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“If I had known about the vaccine like I do now, I wouldn’t have to be fighting it (the cancer). I would be free as a bird, and so I am encouraging mothers to allow their daughters to take the vaccine,” Mrs. Davis tells JIS News.

Cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican women between 30 and 50 years of age.

As its name suggests, the cancer attacks the cervix, which is the lower portion of the uterus. It is approximately two inches long and is tubular in shape. Late-stage diagnosis of cervical cancer is not only painful, but costs millions of dollars to treat.

The virus, transmitted primarily via sexual contact, is responsible for approximately 90 per cent of all cervical cancers.

A study conducted in the United States revealed that within four years of the vaccine’s introduction, HPV decreased by over 50 per cent among females 14 to 20 years of age.

Support for the use of the vaccine has also come from Chairman of the Jamaica Cancer Society and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Jamaica National Group, Earl Jarrett, who allowed his daughters and son to take it years ago.

During a town hall meeting on the HPV vaccine at the Webster Memorial Church in Kingston on October 31, Acting Director of the Health Ministry’s Family Health Unit, Dr. Melody Ennis, said if nothing is done to solve the problem, then 90 per cent of those infected with the virus will die.

She informed that HPV is robust and easily transmitted and is the commonest sexually transmitted infection that exists.

“Having all of this information, the Ministry of Health had to take some action. We embraced the recommendation of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health

Organisation (WHO) to introduce the vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer to girls nine to 14 years of age,” she said.

“We have decided in Jamaica to give it to girls entering grade seven, which means we’re giving it to girls on average between ages 11 and 12,” Dr. Ennis continued.

Last year October, the Health Ministry introduced the non-mandatory HPV vaccination programme to target an initial 22,000 grade-seven girls to provide the best protection against types 16 and 18 of the virus.

These two types are responsible for about 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer.

Turning to the benefits, Dr. Ennis informed that “where the vaccine has been used, there has been a significant decrease by 68 per cent in HPV infections, pre-cancer and cancerous legions”.

“Australia is proud. In March of this year, a headline in the Guardian (newspaper) read that they could be the first country to eradicate cervical cancer…because they started years ago to give the vaccine to young girls before they were exposed to the virus,” she said.

Paediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist, Dr. Abigail Harrison, reassures that there are no live parts of the virus present in the vaccine or “any other special preservative agents that we need to worry about”.

“The World Health Organisation has reviewed multiple papers, and it is safe. There have been multiple clinical trials (also),” she said.

Dr. Harrison indicated that where side effects do exist, as with other medications, “there are mild symptoms”.

“So, we tell our girls that they may feel dizzy, they may feel a little bit upset, but if they sit down they are good to go again. The symptoms are self-limiting, meaning they will finish all on their own, and you will not have to do anything about them,” she explained.