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World shortage of HPV vaccine disrupts immunisation in NZ

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A worldwide shortage of an anti-cancer vaccine has left many children and young people in this country with no option but to wait for immunisation.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, funded for those aged nine to 26, protects against infection which can cause cervical cancer in women and mouth, throat, penile and anal cancer in men.

The vaccine has been fully funded for females since 2008 and was extended in January last year to males aged 9 to 26 as well.

It is given as a jab in schools for those aged 9 to 11, and from family doctors for those 12 to 26.

But huge demand internationally has restricted supplies here, forcing health authorities to prioritise schools ahead of others.

Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said the government drug funding organisation's priority was to ensure the stock was given to groups that were most in need.

"So that's why it was prioritised to the school-based vaccination programme and the high-risk patients."

She could not say how many in the 12 to 26 age group had missed out or were delayed, but said there was a backlog of up to 70,000 doses needed.

That included people waiting for first, second and third doses of the Gardasil 9 vaccine.

Ms Williams said while it was best for the vaccine to be given before sexual activity, it was unlikely anyone has been disadvantaged.

"Our clinical experts have advised that that would have no detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the vaccine to delay subsequent doses."

The Health Ministry declined to be interviewed but said in a statement limited supplies became available two weeks ago, with more due next month, when restrictions would be lifted.

Auckland University Immunisation Advisory Centre head Nikki Turner said the disruption was disappointing but unavoidable.

"I do understand that general practice ran out fully for the last few months.

"There will be quite a few young people who have missed out, so we have lost a bit of momentum here, and I'm very relieved to know that the vaccine supply is being restored and that we can get up and start it again."

Dr Turner said young people who had to wait for a follow-up jab will still receive protection from the vaccine.

"There are nine different types in this vaccine so you still will get gain. But I think there certainly is concern in delaying the vaccine, particularly for the older young people."

Medical Association chair Kate Baddock said that at her Warkworth practice they had used the vaccine they stockpiled to give young people two shots before they were 15.

"We have had to look at who we have who should be vaccinated, look at those who've come in to be vaccinated, and try to see where we can defer without risk and still ensure that they will be protected when they need to be."

Pharmac and the Ministry of Health said they had been assured New Zealand would have more than enough vaccine next year.
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