Vaccines are one of the most effective and successful public health tools in history to prevent disease, illness, and premature death from preventable infectious diseases.
In the United States and Europe vaccination rates among children remain high and, for most parents, following the recommended schedule is the norm. Trends in health-care providers who recommend vaccinations range from highly supportive of vaccines and immunization recommendations, to limited support. Evidence, however, illustrates that trust in health-care providers, health-care provider communications and endorsement, social norms, and communication in general plays a central role in instilling, maintaining, and fostering confidence in vaccines, immunizations, and the public health benefits derived from the implementation of such policies.
Challenges still remain. While vaccination remains the social norm, it is important to note that cultural beliefs and norms as well as socio-economic status among certain groups have an impact on public vaccine confidence leading to some areas where vaccination levels are below—sometimes far below—the levels needed to protect those who are unvaccinated. Reluctance, hesitation, concerns, or a lack of confidence have caused some parents to question or forego recommended vaccines. In some cases, the children are vaccinated but vaccinations are delayed beyond recommended ages, alternative schedules are used, or vaccines are totally declined. In these cases, the child is left susceptible to the disease and, if infected, can transmit it to others. Non vaccination can also lead to death as may be possible in the case with Measles.
The story of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) goes beyond the target of infectious diseases, spilling over to some areas of cancer, such as the cervical cancer in women, and genital cancers in both women and men.
This is a key example on how vaccinations can act as an effective preventive measure with regard to the development of tumors. Vaccination demands reflection not only for its public health impact on the prophylactic management of HPV disease, but also for its relevant economic and social outcomes. Greater than ever, data confirms the efficacy and support the urge for effective vaccination plans for both genders before the onset of sexual activity.
Public and private health organizations around the world have signaled that gender-limited vaccination programs have demonstrated a lower effectiveness. In other words, providing vaccination only to women might not be the best solution to the problem: the origin of infection comes from both sexes. Evidence demonstrates that limiting vaccination to women also increases the psychological burden on women by confirming a perceived inequality between genders. More importantly, even if all women were immunized, the HPV chain of transmission would still be maintained through men as the carriers.
The cost-effectiveness of including boys in HPV vaccination programs must be considered in view of the progressive drop of the economic burden of HPV-related diseases in men and women due to universal vaccination. The cost of the substantial increase in anal and oropharyngeal HPV-driven cancers in both sexes has been grossly underestimated or ignored.
Steps must be taken by relevant bodies to achieve the target of universal vaccination. The analysis of HPV vaccination’s clinical effectiveness versus economic efficacy is supportive of the economic sustainability of vaccination programs both in women and men.
In Europe, the United States, and globally these developments demand urgent attention to benefit the healthcare of both genders. There is sufficient ethical, scientific, strategic, and economic evidence to urge the communities around the world to develop and implement a coordinated and comprehensive strategy aimed at both genders and geographic balance, to eradicate cervical cancer and other diseases caused by HPV. Policymakers must take into consideration effective vaccination programs in the prevention of cancers.
The Lorenzini Foundation has a long history of working globally with stakeholders across all sectors in the realm of public health, and in particular, the field of vaccination and immunization. The Foundation is uniting many past efforts in this area with its new strategic vision for the future – a vision that intends to support the continuation of the dissemination of evidence-based knowledge, and build efficacy in sustaining international health policies.