As the country launches its first indigenously developed quadrivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer, hope surges to prevent the disease which causes one death every eight minutes. Dr Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary, DBT, Government of India and Chairperson Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council BIRAC, says this is an important milestone in women’s health and is a scientific success. The qHPV vaccine, CERVAVAC, has demonstrated robust antibody response that is nearly 1,000 times higher than the baseline against all targeted HPV types and in all dose and age groups.
Who has developed the qHPV vaccine? How will the dose be given? Which vaccines are available at present?
The Pune-headquartered Serum Institute of India has developed the first indigenous qHPV vaccine in coordination with the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. HPV vaccines are given in two to three doses. This also depends on the beneficiary’s age. Till now HPV vaccines have been available from foreign manufacturers at a cost approximating Rs 2000 to Rs 3,500 per dose. DBT implemented the project in 2011 under the then secretary M K Bhan in the mission mode programme. Since then, 30 meetings of scientific advisory groups and site visits conducted by DBT have helped review scientific merit of the entire journey to develop the vaccine. It has received market authorisation from DCGI this year.
What is the burden of cervical cancer in India?
India accounts for about a fifth of the global burden of cervical cancer, with 1.23 lakh cases and around 67,000 deaths per year. Cervical cancer is a common sexually transmitted infection. Long-lasting infection with certain types of HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer according to WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. The disease, however, is preventable as long as it is detected early and managed effectively.
What are the challenges in the vaccine drive?
Challenges will be in allocation of adequate budget resources and manpower for vaccinating adolescent girls between nine and 15 years. According to Dr Smita Joshi, who was the Principal Investigator for Serum Institute of India’s HPV vaccine study, one of the 12 multi-centric sites in the country, there is a huge need for stepping up awareness about the disease and the vaccine in the community. “Unlike Covid and the vaccination programme, there is very little awareness about cervical cancer. Overall awareness and screening is very low in the community and that is a concern. This is a preventable disease and hence a huge awareness programme is required,” Dr Joshi said. SII has committed doses but it is also important to keep in mind the huge population of girls between 9 and 15 years.
What is the way forward?
Experts have also said that school-based vaccination programmes will work effectively. Currently there are no school-based vaccination programmes and hence planning will have to be done along those lines, Dr Joshi said. Those accessing public health programmes will get the vaccine free of cost at government-aided schools. However concerted efforts will have to be made to ensure involvement of private healthcare facilities and NGOs towards an effective rollout.