HPV: Tasmania has lowest rate of vaccination for cancer-related virus, study reveals

Vaccine injection
The low number is not due to people denying their children vaccines, Dr Mark Veitch says.(ABC News: Giulio Saggin/ file photo)

National statistics show Tasmania’s vaccination rates are among the lowest for a sexually transmitted infection linked to a number of cancers, a situation doctors have described as completely unacceptable.

The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare study looked at vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) in the 2014-15 financial year.

The results released today found 67 per cent of girls in Tasmania were vaccinated in that period, the lowest rate in the nation.

The boys rate of 59 per cent was the third lowest of 30 primary health networks across the country.

In South East Tasmania the rate for girls was 58 per cent, while the highest national rate for girls was the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network in New South Wales at 86.3 per cent.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Bastian Seidel, who is based in Tasmania, said the results were a wake-up call.

“We need to get the schools involved, we need to get doctors involved and we need to get communities involved,” he said.

“The vaccination rates we have now are completely unacceptable.”

Public Health acting director Dr Mark Veitch acknowledged Tasmania’s low result, but pointed out the statistics were two years old.

He said since then the Government had improved information for parents on the benefits of the vaccine, and how students can receive a catch-up dose if they happen to miss an injection.

“It’s not clear why Tasmanian rates are low,” he said.

“Children at high school can have busy lives, people can have misunderstandings about the vaccine, but we know we’ll never get 100 per cent.”

Dr Veitch played down the influence of anti-vaccination groups.

“The number of people who completely deny their children and the benefits of vaccinations is very small,” he said.

“There is a proportion of people we call vaccine-hesitant — that probably makes up about 10 per cent of people — they’re not quite sure so they want more information.”

“They’re the people who it’s really important to make sure they have enough information.”

The Federal Government paid for three immunisation injections which are given to students before they become sexually active, typically at year seven, but written consent from parents is needed.

Vaccine a potential lifesaver

Michael Frost from the Institute of Health and Welfare said the vaccine was potentially life saving.

“Human papillomavirus virus doesn’t have any huge consequences in itself as a virus, but it is related to certain cancers,” he said.

“Most people will know about the relationship between HPV and cervical cancers, but it can also be associated with cancers of the vulva and vagina, the penis and the anus.

“So it’s very important for people to get these immunisations before they become sexually active, to prevent infection and prevent the spread of HPV in the community.”

Dr Seidel said high vaccination rates were vital towards improving cervical cancer prevention.

“We are changing the way we are screening for cervical cancer, using different pap smears in December this year,” he said.

“And the reason why we made these changes is because we were hoping to have better vaccination rates for HPV in the community.”