“In our culture and our tradition, girls should be able to protect themselves, but this is not yet possible,” Nierad Muckeva, a project coordinator for the so-called world’s first cervical cancer vaccine, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“The worldwide idea of the invention of a vaccine that would protect girls from sexually transmitted infections, and would make them better to be able to protect themselves with the vaccine that has no side effects is a social construct,” she added. “It is the adult male that protects girls. They cannot protect themselves from this disease. They should only be protected by a female and their family, not by a male.”
But on the other side of the aisle, the chief executive of Pan–Africa Vaccine Alliance (PAVA), Mr. Albert Zimba, dismissed the idea that the current cohort of over-vaccinated girls had been sidelined, an oft-repeated criticism.
“Women are underrepresented in decision-making and of the lead in research, for too long,” he said. “We must rectify this, but we must work to have such an impact in the world for both men and women.”
He added that the way vaccination education was carried out by “gender extremists” who were “on the wrong side of morality” was “a very modern development.”
Zimba’s comments were made before the announcement of WHO data showing that most of the girls in a recent cohort inoculated with the new vaccine, which was given to over 30 million girls, were still alive (80 percent) and weren’t developing cancer. Of the 5.3 million girls who received the vaccine in the first four years, only 3 percent became ill, according to the report.
This age cohort is believed to have the highest cancer risks as they enter puberty and cannot get the vaccine years later. The existing and pre-existing HPV vaccine that prevents the virus, which poses a sexually transmitted disease, has been deemed insufficient because it doesn’t protect against cervical cancer, which is, unlike other cancers, considered curable.
“The statistical advantage of the HPV vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer is indisputable,” Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, said in a statement. “We need to encourage parents and policymakers to make [the HPV vaccine] part of the basic immunization schedule for girls so that young girls are vaccinated as soon as they are able to participate in sex life, including sex in school.”
Another vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer, aimed at boys, is yet to be developed.