- Dr Nyangasi said Kenya’s goal is to vaccinate all boys and girls aged nine to 14 years.
- Prof Nelly Mugo said Kenyan scientists conducted a trial that proved one dose is enough to protect from HPV infection.
Boys in primary school will now be eligible to receive the free HPV vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer in women, the Ministry of Health has said.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is currently only given to girls, aged nine to 14 years.
It protects them from HPV, the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer in women.
Dr Mary Nyangasi, head of the National Cancer Control Programme in Kenya, said because HPV is believed to be sexually transmitted. Reducing the number of males carrying the virus will help prevent its transmission to women.
“Initially we targeted only nine-year-old girls because the doses we received were very few, so you have to give it to the people who will most need it and those were girls who were nine years,” she said in Nairobi on Tuesday.
“We managed to negotiate, now we are able to get doses that can reach nine to 14-year-olds.”
She said once the ministry has enough stock of the vaccine, this year, it will begin enrolling boys.
“We are still negotiating for more doses, the world is moving towards vaccinating all boys and girls between nine to 14 years,” she said during a cervical cancer awareness meeting organised by Kilele Health Association, a local non-profit.
Dr Nyangasi said Kenya’s goal is to vaccinate all boys and girls aged nine to 14 years.
Currently, 60 per cent of all eligible girls have received the first of the recommended two doses.
The vaccination provides protection against HPV types 16 and 18 which are responsible for approximately 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.
The vaccine also prevents boys from getting infected with the HPV types that can cause cancers of the mouth or throat, penis and anus as well as genital warts.
The optimal age of vaccination is in the early adolescent period, before sexual debut with possible HPV infection.
However, last year, the World Health Organisation released new guidelines showing one dose is actually enough and children do not need a second one.
Prof Nelly Mugo, head of the Sexual Reproductive Adolescent Child Health Research Programme at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), said Kenyan scientists also conducted a trial that proved one dose is enough to protect from HPV infection.
“In the trial, we vaccinated girls who were aged 15 to 20, sexually active, with one dose. We have data on follow-up for the first 18 months and for five years, for girls who were vaccinated and did not initially have HPV. None of them got any HPV,” she said.
Only the Gardasil HPV vaccine, which is licensed in Kenya, is recommended for boys.
The vaccine can be given as early as age nine and is also approved for adults up to age 45.
The National Cancer Institute says in Kenya the most common cancers among men are the prostate followed by the oesophagus and colorectal (23.7 per cent, 15.9 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively).
The most common for women are breast followed by cervix and oesophagus (26.5 per cent, 23.2 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively).
Most cases of oesophagus cancer are caused by HPV.
HPV vaccines have been in use in the private sector in Kenya since 2006. The ministry first conducted a pilot in 2013–2015 in Kitui county before introducing them in public facilities.
The successful uptake of 96 per cent during the pilot was used as an indicator of the country's readiness to roll out the HPV vaccine and incorporate it into the routine immunisation schedule, beginning with nine-year-old girls.
However, actual uptake has been low, from 25 per cent in 2019 to 33 per cent in 2020 and the current 60 per cent.
-Edited by SKanyara