Imagine there is a vaccination against cancer and nobody goes. - It sounds absurd, but it is reality in Germany. 

Statistically, every second person in Germany will develop cancer and already today 4.65 Million people in Germany live with a cancer diagnosis. Nevertheless, cancer prevention often seems to be neglected. But what if we could get vaccinated against cancer?

And that is exactly what is possible. Already since 2006 the HPV vaccination has been available in Germany and it protects girls as well as boys against the carcinogenic HP viruses. The vaccination is available, safe, and for young people covered by the health insurance. Nevertheless, we have seen low vaccination rates for years, which have further declined during the Covid pandemic. For us, this is unacceptable, which is why we are committed to HPV education and vaccination, among other activities, through our active school education programs. Now we spoke with Dr. med. Alexa Meyer, the Business Unit Director Vaccines at MSD, about the vaccination and what needs to be done to protect more young people from HPV.

ohhh! foundation: Dear Dr. Meyer, you or I will be diagnosed with cancer in the course of our lives and worldwide the number of people with the disease will double by 2040. Are we losing the fight against cancer?

Dr. med. Meyer: You have to look at the context here: One of the reasons the numbers are rising is that people are getting older due to better medical care and preventive health care, and the risk of cancer increases with age. At the same time, the treatment of cancer has made enormous progress. The chances of successfully treating cancer have improved significantly in recent years.And research continues - including ways to prevent cancer. 

ohhh! foundation: Let's talk about HPV. The vaccination against HPV is available in Germany is covered by health insurance for adolescents, and is well tolerated. Why is the vaccination rate still so low?

Dr. med. Meyer: There are various reasons for this. We know from surveys that many parents do not know about HPV or are not aware that an HPV infection can lead to cancer. This is a big problem, especially among boys, because HPV is usually associated only with cervical cancer, although other cancers can also be caused by HP viruses. In addition, the vaccination comes at an age when adolescents no longer have fixed preventive care appointments and also rarely see a doctor otherwise. Thus, the pediatrician or family doctor cannot inform parents and adolescents about the vaccination either. 

ohhh! foundation: What barriers do policymakers need to remove to enable higher vaccination rates?

Dr. med. Meyer: There would need to be much more information and education overall about preventive health care and standard vaccinations - among parents and adolescents. In relation to HPV, it would be important that boys and their parents are also informed about vaccination. Experience from countries with high vaccination rates also shows that vaccinations are much better accepted when access is as easy as possible. This can be, for example, personal invitations and reminders, and the possibility of being able to book an appointment digitally. 

ohhh! foundation: If we want to vaccinate as many adolescents as possible, why isn't the HPV vaccination available as a school vaccination in Germany?

Dr. med. Meyer: Experience shows that vaccination offers at schools are well received. In some cases, the public health service (ÖGD) already vaccinates in schools. However, this only takes place in isolated cases because the ÖGD does not have enough staff for this. In addition, school vaccinations are regulated and organized differently in the federal states. But the government is planning to expand the ÖGD. This could lead to higher vaccination rates in the future. 

ohhh! foundation: Vaccinations always come in for a lot of criticism. What do you say to the argument that vaccination is (allegedly) associated with many dangerous side effects?

Dr. med. Meyer: I think it's important to talk about these fears. Like medicines, vaccines are tested in several studies before they are approved, and they are also monitored by national and international authorities after they have been approved. Research and experience in recent years show that HPV vaccination is generally well tolerated. It has been available since 2006 and more than 500 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. As with all vaccinations, vaccine reactions such as a skin reaction at the injection site, headache or fever may occur. Unfortunately, false information about side effects is repeatedly spread on social media, which - understandably - makes people feel insecure. 

ohhh! foundation: What is your message to all young people who have not yet been vaccinated? 

Dr. med. Meyer: Human papillomaviruses are viruses that can cause cancer in both girls and boys. Almost everyone or anyone becomes infected withHPV during their lifetime. Vaccination can protect against certain cancers.Therefore, get informed, talk to your parents and your doctors about possible vaccination. I am vaccinated against HPV myself and will have all my young children vaccinated at age 9 to protect against HPV cancer.

ohhh! foundation: Please complete the sentence: Dear Mr. Lauterbach, ...

Dr. med. Meyer: ... due to the pandemic, preventive measures for children and adolescents have taken a back seat; let us work together to close this gap and protect young people from possible cancer in the future. 

We thank Dr. med. Alexa Meyer for her time and the informative interview!