This week's article on HPV vaccination basically looks into which U.S. groups are at high risk for cervical cancer and the different factors that may be contributing to the new cervical cancer cases that we're getting. It's upsetting to know that we have the resources to eventually rid the population of one type of cancer, and yet what's stopping this from happening have to do with the country's health system. While the U.S. struggles to target vaccination, especially to high-risk groups, I came across an article that was published yesterday on the NY Times and it discusses the accomplishments of the HPV vaccination campaign in Australia. This program began five years ago and it offers free HPV vaccination for girls and young women so it's not too surprising that there is a decrease in genital warts and cervical abnormalities among these young women. But what initially surprised me the most is that this program that's aimed for women is benefiting the Australian men as well! The genital wart rate is drastically decreasing among men who are under 30, and more specifically, it's estimated that rates decreased by about 82 percent among heterosexual men below 21. It's important to note that among girls who are under 21, the drop amounted to nearly 93 percent. It astonished me how close these numbers are to each other so I looked further into what the article describes as the 'herd immunity' and this is the phenomenon that explains how the high rate of immunization among young women is protecting young men.
A large group of people where the majority chooses to get vaccinated are referred to as the 'herd community'. But among this herd community are some unvaccinated people mingling around as well so when the infection spreads, the unvaccinated people basically have protection from all of the vaccinated people around them and they ultimately don't get sick. However, the people who chose not to get vaccinated and are located outside of the herd community do get sick. But there's another catch to this concept. If there aren't enough vaccinated people in the herd community, herd immunity will not succeed because there needs to be enough of the vaccinated people in the area to protect the non-vaccinated people who are mingling around them. This concept also explains how there's a 93 percent drop in genital warts in young women when only 85 percent were vaccinated. The herd immunity is protecting men as well as the unvaccinated women.
Although the study we read this week only focuses on the U.S., this really should be a priority for everyone because unlike other vaccines, this one has an extremely high potential of eradicating genital warts and it will get us one step closer to preventing cancers of the cervix, head and neck.