Summer Salad

January/February 2009

HPV vaccination catch up program

Utilisation by young Australian women

Volume 38, No.1, January/February 2009 Pages 72-76

Edith Weisberg

Deborah Bateson

Kirsten McCaffery

S Rachel Skinner

Background

The quadrivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine provides protection against HPV types 6 and 11, and 16 and 18. The Australian Government’s offer of free vaccination to women aged 18–26 years of age through general practitioners ends 30 June 2009.

Objective/s

To determine the percentage of women attending Family Planning New South Wales (FPNSW) clinics aged 26 years or less who were aware of the free HPV vaccination program and had received a full course of the vaccine or had at least one injection.

Methods

A questionnaire to assess knowledge, attitudes, awareness and utilisation of the free vaccination catch up program for women aged 26 years or less through GPs was given to women attending the Ashfield, Newcastle and Penrith FPNSW clinics during May and June 2008 by the clinic receptionist for completion before seeing the clinician.

Results

Two hundred and ninety-four women aged 15–26 years (mean age 21.7 ± 2.8) completed the questionnaire out of a total of 512 women in that age group who visited a FPNSW clinic; response rate 57.4%. Eightythree percent had heard about the vaccine and 56% had presented to a GP for at least one injection. The majority of women (213, 72.4%) had visited a GP in the previous 6 months. In total, GPs had suggested having the vaccine to 110 (37.4%) women during a recent visit; 59 (53.6%) of these women had visited a GP specifically to have the HPV vaccine. Of the 179 who responded to the question about awareness of the availability of a free course of HPV vaccine, 76 (42.5%) were unaware that they could obtain free vaccination through a GP.

Conclusion

General practitioners should use opportunistic visits by young women to provide information about the catch up HPV vaccination program and encourage them to participate in the program. As the offer of free vaccination through GPs ends 30 June 2009 it is important that GPs encourage as many eligible women as possible to participate. The reduction in incidence of cervical cancer in Australia depends on maximal coverage of eligible women.

The quadrivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, provides protection against HPV types 16 and 18 which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers1 in Australia and HPV types 6 and 11 responsible for the development of genital warts.2 In 2003 there were 725 cases of newly diagnosed cancer of the cervix3 and 216 deaths were reported in 2005.3 It is estimated that 80% of the community will be exposed to HPV during their lifetime.4 Vaccination against HPV is most effective if given to women and men before possible sexual acquisition of the virus.

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Correspondence afp@racgp.org.au

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