"There’s a type of cancer that we can beat most of the time," writes Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. "Australia already is doing it. Why aren’t we, with one of the best medical systems in the world?"
In an op-ed published in The Eagle newspaper marking International HPV Awareness Day, Winnike outlined the contrasts between Australia's public health efforts and those closer to home, and the difference it makes in the health and mortality rates of women:
A recent study in The Lancet Public Health shows that rates of cervical cancer in Australia are plummeting, as well as deaths from that cancer, which kills 34,000 women a year in the United States.
The reason is two-pronged, and within the reach of every government in the developed world: Australia screens women rigorously to catch cancer before it starts, and even more important, it has an active immunization program to provide teenage boys and girls with the vaccine against human papillomavirus, the virus responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.
In Australia, 80.1 percent of girls and 74.1 percent of boys aged 15 were fully immunized against HPV by the age of 15. That was in 2015-16, and the numbers have been rising steadily, so they’re probably significantly higher now.
HPV vaccination rates are rising in the United States, too, but they aren’t nearly high enough.
In 2017, slightly less than half of all teenagers were immunized fully; in Texas, the number was discouragingly lower, at 39.7 percent, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
This drive to improve the health of Australia’s women is working. A report by the Australian government shows that the mortality rate for cervical cancer in Australia dropped by more than half from 1991 to 2014; it’s now at 1.7 per 100,000 women annually. The U.S. rate is close to a third higher, at 2.3 deaths per 100,000 women, and in Texas, higher still, at 2.7.
But here’s the big news from The Lancet report: If Australia continues its vaccination program at this rate, “cervical cancer could be considered to be eliminated as a public health problem in Australia within the next 20 years.”
You can read the full op-ed here.