Can a vaccine save many Israelis from cancer? Yes, if schools allow it

“We are missing a great opportunity to save lives. We have to do something about it.”

Petri dishes are pictured in an unknown location in a Cancer Research UK laboratory on an unknown date. (photo credit: CANCER RESEARCH UK/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Petri dishes are pictured in an unknown location in a Cancer Research UK laboratory on an unknown date.
(photo credit: CANCER RESEARCH UK/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Some Israeli schools are preventing their pupils from receiving a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes several forms of cancer, an expert warned following the publication of a report on the subject by the Health Ministry.
The rate of educational institutions refusing to participate in the vaccination program stands at about 17% at the national level and reaches 60% in the Jerusalem area, the report showed.
“The papillomavirus is very common, both in men and in women, and it is directly correlated with the appearance of several types of cancer, including cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer and anal cancer,” according to Dr. Eduardo Schechter, director of the Maccabi Women’s Health Center in Tel Aviv.
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease, and yet it is the fourth most common type of cancer affecting women all over the world. Oropharyngeal cancer affects men more than women and is caused by the papillomavirus in 30% to 40% of cases.
“In the past, we did not have any way to prevent these diseases. Now we have a solution: a vaccine that has been used for over 15 years and it’s one of the safest, according to the WHO,” Schechter pointed out. “More than 300 million doses have been administered so far and the level of effectiveness has been over 90%.
Dr. Eduardo Schechter, director of the Maccabi Women’s Health Center in Tel Aviv. (Maccabi Health Care Services)Dr. Eduardo Schechter, director of the Maccabi Women’s Health Center in Tel Aviv. (Maccabi Health Care Services)
“The Health Ministry has been trying to inoculate all young people through a vaccination campaign in schools,” he added. “It is very important to vaccinate people before they are exposed to HPV, which commonly happens through sex, in all forms.
“Moreover, we know that young people have a stronger response – and therefore, before the age of 16 two doses are enough, while those who are older need three doses.”
However, according to the report published by the Health Ministry last month, only half of the relevant population was fully vaccinated in 2019-2020.
“The report looks into the reason why the children did not get vaccinated,” Schechter pointed out. “While in some cases it was due to the decision of a parent, possibly because they were afraid or skeptical, in others the school itself refused to participate in the program.”
According to the report, some 24% of schools and 16% of parents in Tel Aviv refused to allow children to receive the first dose of the vaccine; in Haifa, 6% and 14%; and in Ashkelon, 4% and 28% refused. In the capital, in addition to some 60% of schools deciding not to participate in the vaccination drive, some 9% of the parents chose not to have their children inoculated.
“Many of them will develop cancer which could have been prevented,” Schechter explained, adding that if the goal is to reduce the presence of the virus in the population, it is crucial to vaccinate a vast majority of it.
“We are missing a great opportunity to save lives,” he concluded. “We have to do something about it.”