In a significant move, the Indian government is gearing up to initiate a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination campaign targeting girls aged 9-14 years, with the aim of curbing cervical cancer rates, as reported by The Indian Express.
The three-phase immunization drive is set to kick off in the second quarter of this year, emphasizing the government’s commitment to addressing the pressing issue of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among Indian women.
The cost-effective two-dose HPV vaccine, currently priced at approximately Rs. 2,000 per dose, is poised to become freely available as part of the government’s immunization program. This vaccine not only safeguards against cervical cancer but also offers protection against strains responsible for anal, vaginal, and oropharyngeal cancers, along with those causing genital warts.
The campaign will be strategically conducted in schools and existing vaccination sites, targeting a third of girls aged 9 to 14 years annually over the course of three years, as stated by a senior official. The launch is contingent upon the government accumulating 6.5-7 crore vaccine doses for the initial phase. Currently, India bears about one-fifth of the global burden of cervical cancer, with an alarming 1.25 lakh new cases and 75,000 deaths reported annually.
In parallel, the Serum Institute of India (SII) is proactively working to enhance its production capacity for Cervavac, a locally developed quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four HPV strains – 16, 18, 6, and 11. With an existing capacity of 2-3 million doses annually, SII aims to ramp up production to an impressive 60-70 million doses.
Additionally, there are explorations into a single-dose HPV vaccine for ages 9-15, advised by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
While the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the viability of a single-dose schedule for public health programs, the ICMR plans to conduct an antibody persistence study post-one dose, steering away from a prolonged Phase-3 trial for efficacy. This innovative approach reflects India’s commitment to finding effective solutions in the battle against cervical cancer.