A scientific study from HEAP researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the University of Oulu reveals that gender-neutral HPV vaccination is the best way to achieve community-level immune protection and to eradicate vaccine-targeted oncogenic HPVs.

The study, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, analysed cohort data from the community-randomised Finnish vaccination trial, and found that in the years following vaccination, cancer-causing HPVs are progressively replaced by vaccine-untargeted HPV types with low or no risk for cancer. This effect was most pronounced in communities where gender-neutral vaccination campaigns had been carried out.

Implications for HPV vaccination programmes and screening programmes

These results are good news for predicting the long-term effects of programs to eliminate HPV by vaccination. The worry has been that when the vaccine-targeted viruses have been eliminated, other viruses may emerge instead.  There is now conclusive real-world evidence that after the highly oncogenic vaccine-targeted viruses are eliminated, the emerging viruses have little or no oncongenicity – implying a continued high protection against cancer.

However, the findings could have implications for cancer screening programmes, as they suggest that HPV screening programmes for cervical cancer prevention, which include testing for HPVs with low cancer risks, should be redesigned or stopped among vaccinated communities.

Credit: Vilma Pimenoff

“The current approach to  HPV screening programmes could lead to overdiagnosis, and unnecessary testing and treatment would be a burden for the patient and the healthcare system.” 

Ville Pimenoff. Lead author

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