Revitalising HPV immunisation will deliver long-term benefits for women

Together, screening and immunisation offer the most effective protection against cervical cancer.
Together, screening and immunisation offer the most effective protection against cervical cancer.
The National Screening Unit (NSU) says the action plan to revitalise the human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme for 12-year-old girls will have significant long-term benefits for New Zealand women. National Cervical Screening Programme Manager Helen Colebrook says two common types of high-risk HPV cause up to 70 percent of cervical cancers.

‘Improving the HPV immunisation programme will reduce the incidence of HPV infection and therefore the number of women who get cervical cancer.

‘About 80 percent of sexually active women become infected with HPV at some point in their lives. In nearly all cases the infection will clear on its own in 6-24 months. However, in some women, the HPV infection will not clear and abnormal cells may develop on their cervix which, if undetected and untreated can progress to cervical cancer.’

HPV vaccines are most effective if given before young women become sexually active. Currently, around 61 percent of eligible girls who turned 12 in 2014 are fully immunised against HPV. For Māori and Pacific girls, the rates are higher at 64 and 73 percent respectively.

Māori and Pacific women have a higher incidence of HPV-related cancers compared to New Zealand European women. From its outset, the immunisation programme has prioritised Māori and Pacific coverage.

‘Together, screening and immunisation will offer the most effective protection against cervical cancer,’ Helen Colebrook says.

The action plan to improve the programme uses the immunisation team’s underlying health target principles of ‘plan, engage, promote and monitor’ and the World Health Organization’s global vaccine action plan.

The result will be increased coverage, more timely HPV immunisations, transparent and consistent delivery of immunisation services, better integration of services and better engagement between health professionals.

To help track improvements, a new performance measure has been introduced. It is hoped 75 percent of eligible girls will be fully immunised by the end of 2017.

The HPV immunisation improvement plan can be viewed on the Ministry of Health website.


To receive the Screening Matters newsletter by email, fill out our sign-up form.

Page last updated: 09 November 2015