You'd probably be surprised that only 12% of Singaporeans have had their HPV vaccination, compared to 80% in the UK and 75% in Australia. Below are 8 important facts that sum up everything you need to know about HPV vaccination in Singapore:
1. What is HPV?
HPV is extremely common. Straits Times article, October 2014.
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. Depending on the strain of virus, it can cause:
1) Genital warts and anal or penile cancer in men.
2) Genital warts and cervical cancer in women.
2. How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is transmitted through skin contact, meaning you can acquire it even if you use a condom.
Similar to Zika, most HPV infections occur without any signs or symptoms. There is no cure for HPV, although your body can sometimes clear the infection spontaneously.
3. HPV vaccination prevents cancer
Don't just quote me. Charlene Choi, our very own HPV ambassador has the same message for you. (So does MOHH).
Cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer affecting women in Singapore. In Singapore, about 200 women are diagnosed with the disease each year, and 80 die from it.
The HPV vaccine reduces a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer by a whooping 70 percent. If I were a salesman and told you that I could offer you a vaccine today that'd lower your cancer risk by 70%, I'd hit my sales target by lunchtime.
Why is HPV vaccination in Singapore so uncommon, compared to other countries? I'm glad you asked - It's mainly because not enough Singaporeans know about the vaccine's existence and importance.
4. HPV vaccination benefits both females AND MALES
USS Halloween Horror Night? Try Googling this instead. Consider yourself warned.
Genital warts are one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Singapore, with 8 out of 10 patients being men.
I see a lot of patients in clinic who've got warts - we can freeze them to oblivion when they appear, but we can't stop them from coming back. Ever.
(Also read: What to expect at an STD clinic in Singapore)
Luckily for you, HPV vaccination in Singapore protects both men and women against genital warts.
Warts also put men at a greater risk of penis and anal cancer, because God is fair like that.
5. HPV vaccination in Singapore: Gardasil VS Cervarix
Extra geeky information for geeky geeks.
There are only two vaccines available worldwide - Gardasil and Cervarix.
It's a simple choice for me - I'd pick Gardasil myself. Gardasil covers 4 different strains of HPV, and Cervarix only covers 2 of those 4 strains.
Remember those nasty warts that I warned you not to Google, which has now scarred your eyes forever? Gardasil also provides much better protection against them, compared to Cervarix.
The UK has switched to using Gardasil in it's National vaccination programme since 2012 .
6. HPV vaccination in Singapore: Side effects
No studies have shown any good evidence between HPV vaccination and adverse side effects.
After the injection, you'll get a little bit of redness and soreness in your arm, the same as with any other needle jabs. That's it.
7. HPV vaccination in Singapore: When should you get it?
Singapore Health Promotion Board poster.
Ideally, you should be vaccinated before your first sexual contact for maximum benefits, which is why children in other countries routinely get offered the vaccine from 13 years old.
In Singapore, the recommended age range for vaccination is 9 - 26 years old for both males and females. 3x doses of HPV vaccine are given over a period of 6 months.
If you're older than 26 (and especially if you've never had sex before), the vaccine still confers some degree of benefits and protection. Talk to your doctor about this.
The HPV vaccine is much less effective once you've acquired the infection, which is why it's important for you to get vaccinated ASAP. Testing for HPV is not routinely recommended in Singapore.
8. HPV vaccination in Singapore: Where and how much?
Straits Times article, March 2011.
You can receive your HPV vaccination in Singapore at any polyclinic, the DSC clinic, or selected private GP clinics.
It costs between $285 - $600 in total for a three-shot dose.
If you're female, you can use up to $400 from your Medisave account under the Medisave400 scheme for your HPV vaccination.
9. Ladies who've had your HPV vaccine - you still need your PAP smear
All women aged 25 and above who've ever had sex should still have a Pap smear once every 3 years, even after vaccination. 30% of cervical cancer causes are not covered by the HPV vaccine.
I researched and wrote about this topic primarily for the benefit of all my friends and family, but I hope reading this spurs you on to talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine yourself.
Let's make all of Singapore aware about this preventable cancer today.