Published on September 18, 2007
The Public Health Ministry has rejected a recommendation from health experts to register the Human Papilomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which could prevent cervical cancer, because a national vaccination programme would be too expensive.
Disease Control Department (DCD) director-general Dr Thawat Suntrajarn said the National Vaccine Committee, which is under the DCD, said the ministry would not consider putting the HPV vaccine into a national vaccination programme even though it could prevent up to 70 per cent of infections.
He said the conventional method for preventing cervical cancer, the Pap smear test, is still effective in screening, and the rate of infection in women was very low at only 10 per cent of the female population.
However, the most significant reason for the ministry's rejection of a vaccination programme was the cost of the vaccine at about Bt3,000-Bt7,000 per injection. The ministry lacks the budget to cover costs for this vaccine.
However, he recommended the HPV vaccine for those women who could afford it privately.
Dr Chisanu Panchareon of the Department of Paediatrics at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, said the HPV vaccine was as important as Pap smear screening.
"The vaccine is a form of prevention, not treatment. It has shown significant efficacy in preventing HPV," said Chisanu.
In particular, the vaccine could prevent females aged 9-26 from contracting cervical cancer, he said.
"The Public Health Ministry should remember that prevention of cervical cancer is a priority," he told a press conference held by MDS (Thailand) at Chulalongkorn University.
Human Papillomavirus is a common virus. There are more than 100 types of HPV, with types 16 and 18 accounting for an estimated 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases and types 6 and 11 responsible for 90 per cent of all genital-wart cases.
Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among women worldwide after breast cancer. In Thailand between 6,000 and 8,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. The mortality rate is 19.9 per 100,000 cases.
Most incidences of cervical cancer involved four strains of HPV, with the most common being 16 and 18. The current vaccine can protect women from strains 6, 11, 16 and 18 only, said Chisanu.
The HPV vaccine can protect women from cervical cancer as well as vaginal pre-cancers and vulva pre-cancer caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and genital warts.
The vaccine yields the most effective results one month after the third shot, but protection is limited to the HPV types covered by the vaccine. However, the side effects of the vaccine need more long-term study.
"We need to use the HPV vaccine along with Pap-smear screening as the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer," said Chisanu.