The Courier-Mail

Lives at risk as girls skip cancer jabs

- SUE DUNLEVY

ALMOST 30 per cent of girls aged 15 in 2013 were not fully immunised against cervical cancer – and in some areas only half of all girls have had the vaccine.

A major national report has found regions in NSW, including outer western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, as well as southeast Tasmania, remote South Australia and the Tweed area in NSW have the lowest coverage rates.

Only 56-60 per cent of girls are fully immunised against cervical cancer in these regions, the National Health Performanc­e Authority report reveals.

Mackay in Queensland boasts the most fully immunised teenagers with a rate of 94 per cent.

The report shows some dramatic year-on-year difference­s in vaccinatio­n rates.

Brisbane north increased the rate of girls fully immunised against the human papillomav­irus (HPV) by 13 percentage points from 69 per cent in 2012 to 82 per cent in 2013.

In Sydney’s outer west and Blue Mountains area, the rate of girls fully immunised against HPV decreased 12 percentage points from 68 per cent in 2012 to 56 per cent in 2013.

Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation chief Joe Tooma said lack of understand­ing of the cancer and the vaccine was probably the reason so many girls were not fully immunised.

“It’s a real shame people aren’t taking the opportunit­y of having a vaccine that reduces their risk of dying from cervical cancer by 80 per cent,” he said.

To be fully immunised, girls need to receive three shots of the vaccine over a six-month period and it needs to be given before girls and boys become sexually active.

Dr Julia Brotherton of the National HPV Vaccinatio­n Program Register said their research showed it was the third dose of the vaccine that was most often missed.

“It could be that the child is not there on the designated day,” she said.

The reason girls miss out is “mostly logistical rather than side effects or objections”, she said.

Cervical cancer victim Emma Bowker (pictured), who has been given only months to live, urged against complacenc­y.

The Sunshine Coast medical receptioni­st was only 24 when she developed aggressive cervical cancer last year, followed by liver cancer. Although she was vaccinated, Emma said she had not realised Gardasil did not protect against all cancercaus­ing strains of HPV.

“I want people to know cervical cancer can happen to anyone at any age and you should definitely still get checked.”

EDITORIAL P26

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