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HPV vaccines among Chinese women still a long way off

By Yin Lu (Global Times)

15:02, July 24, 2013

(Photo/ GT)

Phoebe Wong's plan to get vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus), a cancer-causing virus, has been postponed indefinitely.

Wong, 17, a high school graduate, decided against getting the vaccine after reading negative reports about it. Many young netizens have been spooked by the Japanese government's withdrawal of its recommendation of the vaccines, due to possible adverse effects such as long-term pain and numbness, as reported by the Tokyo Times.

Wong first learned of the vaccine from a peer. When her classmate mentioned that her mother was taking her to Hong Kong to get the shots, Wong went online to learn about HPV infection and the vaccines.

Gardasil and Cervarix are the two vaccines that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both require a three-shot series over six months. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since being introduced in 2006, the vaccine has reduced the prevalence of the virus among US teenage girls by 56 percent.

In the US, the HPV vaccination is recommended for girls between 9 and 26. The vaccines have not yet been approved on the Chinese mainland, so Chinese young women who want the shots typically go to Hong Kong or Macao, where the vaccines are available.

Yible Wang, 26, who works as a software engineer in Singapore, said that the government there encourages women to get vaccinated. With the support of her mother, Wang has already taken the first two shots.

She had wavered over the decision for a long time, but a doctor told her there was no proof that the vaccine causes severe side effects. Fortunately, Wang did not feel much pain or experience any side effects from the injections.

For many, the issue is complicated by a moral dilemma. Since most cases of HPV are sexually transmitted, the preventive step of getting the vaccine hints that the young woman is - or is planning to be - sexually active.

Wong is against premarital sex and doesn't think she will have more than one sex partner. But after learning that indirect contact can also cause HPV infection, her mother had strongly encouraged her to get vaccinated.

"I believe most Chinese people are conservative, but it doesn't mean having a closed mind," said Wang. "Young people should trust science, and be responsible."

Huang Sihan, 22, flew to Hong Kong twice for the vaccinations. The second time, she asked to purchase the drug so she could have the third injection at home in Beijing. Each shot cost Huang 1,500 HK dollars ($193).

Huang doesn't think getting the shots before marriage puts any social or moral pressure on her. "It shows responsibility for oneself and her children," said Huang, whose mother backed her decision.

On her blog, gynecologist Zhang Rongya from Peking Union Medical University Hospital calls on young women, especially girls under the age of 14, to get vaccinated. "Using condoms, postponing sexual activity, quitting smoking, getting HPV vaccine shots and having regular exams can reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer," said Ma Lei, another gynecologist.

However, considering that the vaccines haven't been approved, as well as their high price and the controversy they provoke, it seems that widespread use of HPV vaccines among Chinese women is still a long way off.

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