Medical experts have asked Nigerians to disregard misinformation going around about the Human Papillomavirus vaccine (HPV), assuring that the vaccine is safe and remains the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
The experts who spoke at a virtual meeting titled, “Cervical Cancer and HPV Vaccination: Matters Arising” organised by the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria with support from Marie Stopes International of Nigeria, disclosed that there has been no record of serious adverse event following immunisation among the 3.9 million girls vaccinated so far.
The experts said Nigerians should take responsibility for their health and well-being and not allow misinformation from misinformed people to deny them access to the life-saving vaccine.
The senior health professionals urged them to confront the people who are providing misinformation aggressively against the vaccine.
A renowned Professor of Virology and former Vice-Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Oyewale Tomori, said Nigeria should learn from the COVID-19 vaccine experience and intensify awareness by providing Nigerians with facts about the safety of the HPV vaccines.
“The people are the most important factor to consider if there is an infection outbreak and so they need to have first-hand and credible information.”
The virologist appealed to stakeholders to close the information gaps and continually sensitise Nigerians on the value of vaccination.
He explained, “Have we done all that we should do? From our experiences in the past like the polio and COVID-19 vaccine boycott, have we done enough?.
“We assume that the people don’t know or that we know too much. Then with the little information we are giving our people, we leave gaps and they are filled with fiction.
“When COVID started, we were getting information. We never provided all the information and people filled that gap with fiction. The fiction travels faster than the few facts that we have.
“What lessons have we learnt or forgotten from the past? We need to be moving with the world with the way we are dealing with things. I heard about the rumours. We need internal vigilance.”
Tomori said stakeholders should not allow girls to be deprived of the HPV vaccine by sceptical groups and individuals some of whom also peddle conspiracy theories, urging them to knock the rumours with facts and aggressively too.
“We must confront the people that are providing misinformation aggressively. If you let it last for one day, it will spread to where you can never reach.
“This type of information must be put out for people to see because the cancer is available and it is causing harm. We want our people to know the danger we are putting ourselves in.
“Nigeria brought Africa back by three years during the polio time. Some boycotted the polio vaccine so Africa could not be polio-free. We must knock the rumours with facts and aggressively too.
“The most important people in disease eradication are the people. Make them aware of what they need to do for their own sake.”
A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Prof Rose Anorlu, said awareness of the disease is key in the prevention, noting that increased awareness was crucial in getting people to embrace the vaccine.
Anorlu, who heads the Oncology & Pathological Studies, at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, said the HPV vaccine was the primary prevention for the disease.
“Awareness of a disease is key in prevention. It is right to say cervical cancer screening than screening for cervical cancer. They do not mean the same thing. Cervical cancer screening is to detect the pre-cancer of the cervix.
“Screening is not for detection of invasive cervical cancer, it is for the detection of the pre-cancer of the cervix. The pre-cancer is easy to treat and treatment gives above 90 percent cure rate and prevents development of invasive cervical cancer.”
She urged Nigerians to work with facts and not hearsay.