Human Papillomavirus Vaccine

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th January 2023.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to increase uptake of the HPV vaccine, in light of warnings from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust that girls in the most deprived areas of Scotland are missing out. (S6F-01754)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Scotland has the highest uptake rates for the human papillomavirus vaccine across the four nations of the United Kingdom, but we want to go further and increase uptake in particular in the most deprived areas. Therefore, from 1 January this year, a simplified one-dose schedule was introduced for all eligible girls aged up to their 25th birthday. We anticipate that that approach will further increase uptake.

One-dose HPV vaccine uptake is currently 91.5 per cent for girls in secondary 4 and 88.4 per cent for girls in the most deprived areas. We have provided more than £400,000 to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to support its campaign work on screening benefits. My officials will also be happy to work with the trust, along with Public Health Scotland and health boards, to understand how we can maximise uptake rates in areas of deprivation.

The creation of a women’s health champion provides a further opportunity for such issues to be promoted and addressed. I am delighted to announce today the appointment of Professor Anna Glasier as Scotland’s first women’s health champion. Professor Glasier’s work will be key to driving improvement in women’s health and helping to address the inequalities that have persisted in that area for far too long.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I welcome the First Minister’s announcement. However, it has come 18 months later than was originally intended.

The World Health Organization’s target for fully vaccinating girls against HPV is 90 per cent, but the latest figures for Scotland, which are for last year, show that only 77 per cent of girls in the most deprived areas were fully vaccinated. The WHO also recommends that 70 per cent of women be screened, but women from the most deprived areas are less likely to take part in screening programmes, with uptake there reaching only 63 per cent.

We have the tools to end cervical cancer in Scotland, but the Scottish Government is not using them. Vaccination rates are too low and the roll-out of self-sampling is too slow. Women with abnormal smear tests face waits of a year for colposcopy appointments, and there continue to be inequalities for women in the poorest communities. Will the First Minister commit to addressing those issues as a matter of urgency? Will she set out a clear plan in the next month so that cervical cancer can be eliminated in Scotland?

The First Minister:

We already have a women’s health plan that addresses those and many other issues—in fact, I think that Scotland was the first part of the UK to have such a plan. Professor Glasier will now have the key task of driving it forward.

Those issues are really important, but I do not think that it is the case that the Scottish Government is not using all its levers. As I said earlier, Scotland has the highest uptake rates for the HPV vaccine across all the four UK nations. However, we have recognised that we need to do more and we are doing so through, for example, the introduction of the simplified one-dose schedule. We are seeing the benefits of that approach. Since the vaccination of girls started in 2008, the number of cases with pre-cancerous cells identified in that population at cervical screening has reduced by almost 90 per cent in comparison with rates in women who were not vaccinated. We will continue to take those important steps to improve the health of girls and women in that respect and indeed in all others.

The Presiding Officer:

We move to general and constituency supplementary questions.