What is Cervarix?

HPV vaccination is an effective method of preventing the development of cervical and other cancers. HPV (Human papillomavirus) is an infection which causes genital warts, and in most cases HPV infections are resolved within 2 years without any serious issues developing. In some cases however, particular strains of HPV can cause a persistent infection which can form cancerous lesions over time.

These HPV strains are known to be responsible for a huge number of cancers, the most well-known of which is cervical cancer. Fortunately HPV can be dealt with through regular screening and preventative vaccination. In this article we look at one of the vaccines that has been developed to immunise against the strains of HPV responsible for cancers.

The Cervarix vaccine

Cervarix is manufactured by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. The vaccine is designed to immunise against the two strains of HPV known to cause at least 7 out of 10 cervical cancers. These strains of HPV are known as HPV-16 and HPV-18, and are also responsible for many oral, rectal, and anal cancers.

Because there are so many different types of HPV, and because Cervarix is type specific (immunising against only certain types of HPV), pap smears are still recommended on a regular basis to ensure that other HPV infections are not taking place.

How is Cervarix administered?

Cervarix is delivered through 3 doses. The second is given one month after the first, and the third and final dose is given 6 months after the initial administration. The injection is typically delivered into the muscle of the upper arm, and it is very important that the recipient receives all the necessary booster injections to ensure adequate immunisation.

What are the limitations of Cervarix?

Cervarix only protect against two of the many different strains of the Human Papillomavirus. Cervarix is also a preventative measure, and does not count as a treatment for someone who already has suffered from an HPV infection.

Immunisation through Cervarix is also not completely guaranteed, even though the injection is extremely effective. You are advised to continue with regular screening to keep healthy and safe.

What are the adverse effects of Cervarix?

Cervarix is known to be a safe treatment, but a number of mild side effects have been observed. The most common side effects reported have been some swelling and pain at the point of injection. This is accompanied by muscle pain, tiredness, joint pain, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms (like nausea).

What kind of vaccine Cervarix?

Cervarix is actually based on a new type of vaccination technology. Viruses like HPV possess a unique protein coat which signals their presence to our immune system, and through that, trigger an immune response. Recombinant DNA technologies aim to reproduce this protein coat, thereby inducing an immune response safely and without the risk of an infection as the whole virus isn’t used.

Cervarix was previously the vaccine used by the NHS in its childhood vaccination programme. However it has recently been replaced by its main competitor, the Gardasil vaccine manufactured by Merck. Gardasil immunises against HPV 16 and 18 and a further two strains of HPV which are known to cause genital warts.

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