Cervical cancer milestone: Hope as trial shows single dose of vaccine is highly effective

  • Cancer of the cervix, which forms the lower part of the uterus, is the leading cause of cancer related deaths among women in Kenya.
  • Data shows that nine women die from cervical cancer in Kenya alone, every day.
  • Cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death among women in Kenya.

It is great news for women and girls living in Kenya following the results of a randomised study that found a single dose human papillomavirus vaccine highly effective.

The hopeful news seen as new energy in the push to eliminate cervical cancer.

Cancer of the cervix, which forms the lower part of the uterus, is the leading cause of cancer related deaths among women in Kenya with data showing nine women die from cervical cancer in Kenya alone, every day.

For a country like Kenya where cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death among women, the news of a highly effective single-dose shot of human papillomavirus vaccine, is one that signifies a step in the right direction in the fight against the disease.

Dr. Nelly Mugo, the principal research scientist at KEMRI, said: “I am so excited about this data, if people would use the vaccine safe and it works, which other disease do we know the cause? Because you must have HPV to get cervical cancer, we can diagnose early, screen, treat, prevent and treat early…and now we have a vaccine that is over 95% effective.”

The results of the efficacy of the single shot HPV vaccine were from a randomised trial that took place between December 2018 to June 2021 and one that saw 2,275 adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 20 years old involved.

“We were giving two types, one called bivalent, that protects against 2 types of HPV, the other was called gardasil and protects against 9 types of HPV virus. What the studies showed is that first one was 98% effective and the other was 89% effective after getting one dose,” said Dr. Betty Njoroge, clinical scientist, KEMRI.

The HPV vaccine is not new as Kenya rolled out the vaccine in 2019 amid myths and misconceptions around long term side –effects.

Currently, women above the age of 18 in Kenya get a 3-dose HPV vaccine, at day one, followed by another a month later and finally on the 6th month.

The younger girls take it at day 1 and then later at the 6th month. The HPV vaccine program rollout has however seen a low uptake of the second HPV dose.

“When you get only one dose it means that then you don’t have to go back to get another vaccine…and it also helps the ones giving the vaccine not to go out looking for the ones who got their first dose to come get second dose... it also helps reduce in costs,” added Dr. Njoroge.

Dr. Mugo stated: “The pain of cervical cancer is that when you enter that room the smell hits you from a distance it makes you bleed heavily, you get discharge because the wound is fungating and has mucus, and it is immense pain.”

Cervical cancer, caused by HPV a common sexually transmitted infection, still remains a highly stigmatised disease, but is preventable and also curable if caught early and treated.

As the research scientists indicate, the trial brings new energy to the elimination of cervical cancer, as well as great hope to the women living in countries like Kenya, which still have a high burden of the disease.