the papillomavirus vaccine is still too little known

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are responsible for several cancers. There is, however, a vaccine, intended for adolescents – boys and girls – but which the French have not yet widely adopted.

Faced with certain cases, Jean-Luc Prétet is “sorry”. This professor of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated carcinogenesis at the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté says he receives “sadly sometimes calls from patients with high-grade lesions or tumors that need to be operated on.” “Some young women could have been vaccinated against HPV when they were younger,” he comments on

“It is terrible to think that we have an effective prevention tool but it is not widely used. Terrible to think that we could avoid all these cancers.”

Because HPVs – which are transmitted by contact with mucous membranes or skin, almost exclusively during sexual intercourse with or without penetration – can be particularly dangerous. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world: eight out of ten men and women will be exposed to it in their lifetime.

Approximately 6,300 cases of HPV-related cancer are diagnosed in France each year, in both men and women. Cancers causing 2,900 deaths, recalls The League Against Cancer.

Insufficient vaccination

Yet there is a vaccine, especially for teenagers. But more than a quarter of parents are not in favor of vaccinating their children against human papillomavirus (HPV), reveals an Opinionway survey for La Ligue contre le cancer, on the occasion of European Vaccination Week, which ends Sunday.

Today vaccination coverage remains largely insufficient, indeed it is decreasing. In 2020, only 41% of adolescent girls had received a dose by age 15 and a third a full vaccination schedule by age 16 (vaccination has been recommended for girls since 2007). A long way from the 60% target set by the Cancer Plan.

As for children, although the vaccine is also for them – it has been recommended since 2019 and reimbursed from 2021 – the share of vaccinated people is almost insignificant.

For Jean-Luc Prétet, also director of the National Papillomavirus Reference Center, the population is not sufficiently informed about HPV. He asks for a stronger political commitment, “perhaps this will have to go through the obligation to vaccinate”. What the Opinionway study confirms: HPV is still unknown to more than half of parents and a third of them are not convinced of the interest of this vaccination.

“When we detect it, it’s too late”

However, it prevents the most frequent papillomavirus infections, responsible for 70-90% of cervical cancers in women, says health insurance. HPV infections can also reach the ENT sphere, anus, vulva, vagina and penis and develop cancer there.

Laurence Rouloff, 41, president of the Akuma Association, based in Haute-Garonne, developed HPV in the ENT sphere – transmitted from the mother at birth – then in the cervix.

“My whole life has revolved around this,” he confides to “I did. I have had surgery at least once a year since I was 5, sometimes up to four times in the same year. And at 14, I only had 5% of my windpipe left to breathe. dead out. “

Laurence Rouloff regularly intervenes in colleges in her region to raise awareness among young people about HPV and the possibility of getting vaccinated. “It’s a virus that can’t be seen, felt or detected, except in the cervix,” he insists. “You can’t know if you’ve been infected. It can be dormant for several years and by the time you detect it, it’s too late.”

“Parents must understand that vaccinating their children is a possibility, it concerns their future”.

Vaccination from 11 to 19 years

As the Immunization Information Service reminds us, HPV infections are often asymptomatic. While in most cases the virus clears naturally in one to two years, in 10% of cases it can lead to the formation of lesions. “The evolution is slow between HPV infection, the onset of precancerous lesions and that of cancer”, stresses the High Health Authority. It can take ten to twenty years.

If the French parents are suspicious, the vaccine has still proved valid abroad. In Sweden, precancerous lesions decreased by 75% in vaccinated young girls. In Australia, where a large vaccination campaign was launched, the percentage of people infected with HPV dropped from 23% to 1.5%.

After the fluctuating recommendations in the beginning – particularly that young people shouldn’t have started their sex life – the vaccine is aimed at all girls and all boys aged 11 to 14. However, it is possible to benefit from it in the recovery phase, from 15 to 19 years, with three doses instead of two.

For men who have sex with men, vaccination is also recommended up to the age of 26 to prevent precancerous anal lesions, anal cancers, and warts (also called genital warts).

A point on which Jean-Luc Prétet, director of the National Reference Center of the papillomavirus insists: “Children must be vaccinated, both to protect themselves but also in a public health approach”.

“I would have liked to have been vaccinated”

For this Audrey, a 39-year-old writer, has already warned her son that he will be vaccinated. “She’s only 8 and a half, but I’m at work,” she testifies for This young woman knows how much vaccination can save lives: she still has the effects of whooping cough, which she contracted when she was younger, against which she was not vaccinated.

“Several of my friends have developed cancers linked to an HPV infection. I myself wanted to be vaccinated, I tried to do it but it was too late. I don’t want my son to catch this virus or pass it on to his future partner. And not. I’m going to miss the appointment. “

There are several vaccines but the High Authority for Health recommends Gardasil 9 for a first injection. “It protects against 90% of HPV-related cancers,” explains Jean-Luc Prétet. “It is more protective than the others. It protects against seven high-risk cancer HPVs, over a dozen high-risk HPVs and two warts.”

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