Professor Robert Cohen, pediatrician and infectiologist at the Créteil intercommunal hospital and president of the National Vocational Paediatrics Council, urges the state on Thursday April 28th on franceinfo “strong positions” strengthen vaccination of youth against papillomavirus, while the League Against Cancer launches a campaign in this direction.
This vaccine is slipping, as only 45% of 16-year-old girls received their first dose in 2021, and barely 6% of 15-year-old boys, who have only been recommended this vaccine for a year. According to the League Against Cancer, which commissioned a survey from Opinion Way, about a third of parents are unconvinced of the benefits of this vaccine for their children.
franceinfo: Do we sense mistrust of the vaccine among the parents of your patients?
Robert Cohen: Yes, we feel it all the more since it is a vaccination that we do when we are young, at a time when it is more difficult to get vaccinated than when children are very young. Initially, this vaccine caused a lot of controversy, and little by little they found scientific answers. It is no more dangerous than other vaccines, it works not only against papillomavirus infections, but also against precancerous lesions. We now know that it is also effective against cancer, with a very high rate of effectiveness. Gradually we had answers to these controversies, but we did not give them enough to parents and young people. There are several vaccines that can be given to children around the age of 11. We have diphtheria tetanus polio whooping cough, we need to update the chickenpox and hepatitis B ones. We have a real vaccination cross at the age of 11-12, it is important for this vaccination.
Do teenagers and their parents know that boys are also affected by this vaccine?
Initially, this vaccine was called “anti-cervical cancer” because 99% of cervical cancers are linked to this virus. We have found over the years that there are many other types of cancer in which these papillomaviruses could play a role: we think of ENT cancer, which is more common in boys than girls, cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis. These cancers are less strongly linked to papillomavirus than cervical cancer, but they are linked. Vaccinations also protect against these types of cancer.
Is the difficulty of vaccination against papillomavirus related to the fact that it is often associated with the onset of sexuality?
Yes ! While it is a sexually transmitted disease, one does not need to have full intercourse to contract the papillomavirus. The papilloma virus can be transmitted through a little poked flirts, through caresses. By the age of 30 or 40, 80% of people have had exposure to papillomavirus. It’s a very common infection.
Why do we have poor HPV vaccination protection?
First, the vaccine is undersold by doctors who fear rejection. When it is proposed, the parents accept it 60% to 70% of the time: it is not enough. You must give them all the explanations. That’s what some parents say [ce vaccin] is too new. Do people know it’s been under investigation for 22 years? Do people know that in Australia and across Northern Europe 90% of girls and now boys are vaccinated and that we have already vaccinated hundreds of millions of teenagers with no added risk?
Can this low vaccination coverage also be explained by the French’s distrust of vaccinations?
There is this report that practically dates from the hepatitis B crisis, well before the 2000s, when France started to differentiate itself from other countries in terms of vaccination delays. Anything that could be called the hepatitis B vaccine scandal is what is echoed in the images of the vaccination. For a long time, the authorities were also reluctant to participate in vaccination programs. Well, that is no longer the case. Vaccinations for infants have been mandatory since the age of 18. We see how the state has committed to vaccination against Covid-19. The state must now take strong positions on vaccination [contre les papillomavirus], regarding the Covid-19. It’s not about making it mandatory, but all questions must be answered through official channels, accompanied by promotional campaigns.