WHO announces a single-dose HPV vaccine: But the fight to eliminate cervical cancer doesn’t end there

28 April 2022

After a three-day convention, the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization announced that a single-dose schedule for the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) “offers solid protection against cervical cancer.” 

This is a major development in the global movement to eliminate cervical cancer, which plagues women in low- and middle-income countries around the world. 

According to WHO, “more than 95% of cervical cancer is caused by sexually transmitted HPV.” Mass vaccination against HPV makes cervical cancer one of the most preventable diseases in global health. But as universal health coverage schemes around the world proliferate, cervical cancer services are often pushed to the side, leaving women and girls vulnerable. 

Last month, ThinkWell released four country profiles commissioned by the Union for International Cancer Control on financing challenges for cervical cancer elimination. Each profile includes analyses of current funding, key stakeholder interviews, and policy recommendations for improving national financing for cervical cancer elimination, including HPV vaccination. 

While each nation studied—Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, and the Philippines―has unique circumstances and most are pushing for increased visibility and infrastructure for cervical cancer elimination, a common theme spanned the four countries: insufficient funding. 

Though low- and middle-income nations are building programs to address this gap in services, the programs languish because they don’t receive the necessary resources, including to make the HPV vaccine available and accessible. In addition to limited fiscal space, education and advocacy for cervical cancer elimination at health facilities are often poor because facilities may not prioritize it as a major women’s health issue. 

A single-dose schedule for the HPV vaccine will not only ease the budgetary burden on national governments and incentivize financing vaccine programs, but it will also simplify mass vaccination for women and girls who may face physical and economic barriers associated with a two-dose schedule. 

This WHO recommendation is an enormous step towards streamlined and widely accessible HPV vaccines and, broadly, cervical cancer elimination. This World Immunization Week, ThinkWell celebrates this announcement and what it means for improved universal health coverage, but the work doesn’t stop here. Continued advocacy and pressure on national governments to take advantage of this development, establish and finance cervical cancer service programs, and raise awareness of the danger of HPV are crucial in the fight to eliminate cervical cancer. 

A single dose means fewer costs and wider access, but it’s up to advocates, governments, and practitioners to make sure that every woman everywhere has the means to get the jab.