For the first time in India, a homemade vaccine that offers protection against cervical cancer – the second most common cancer affecting women in the country – will be available to the majority of the population, including the poorest, according to leading healthcare professionals.
Cervavac vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. The vaccine is expected to be released by December of this year, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Servaak will make India self-sufficient in controlling female deaths from cervical cancer. The Government of India will introduce it into the national [vaccination] Poonawala said.
The vaccine protects against HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer and a possible cause of other types of cancer. SSI says it will be available to both men and women at a price of 200 to 400 rupees – about $2.50 to $5.
Dr. Smita Joshi, lead of the HPV vaccine study at SII, said: “The vaccine would mainly be beneficial for girls aged 9 to 15 years or women who have not yet been sexually active.
“If we vaccinate teenage girls now, its effect on reducing the country’s cancer burden will be seen in three to four decades,” she said.
According to Joshi, the vaccine’s efficacy is lower among adult women, who will require cervical cancer screenings – preferably with an HPV test – followed by appropriate management of those who test positive for sexually transmitted HPV.
Dr Mayukh Kumar Chakraborty, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at KPC Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, said that although three highly effective HPV vaccines manufactured abroad are available in India, the cheapest is around $35 per dose.
“Therefore, the HPV vaccination was not included in the national immunization program after it was introduced in 2008,” he said.
In a statement, SII said it was offering Cervavac at a lower price due to the company’s “philanthropic philosophy” and to protect disadvantaged children around the world.
According to the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, cervical cancer kills about 75,000 Indian women annually.
Science and Technology Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said the COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness regarding preventive healthcare and India can now start developing its own vaccines.
“Therefore, vaccination against HPV is the most promising initiative in the quest for cervical cancer prevention,” he said.
“Awareness about cervical cancer prevention in India, which includes vaccination and cervical cancer screening, is very low,” said Joshi, who is also leading the WHO’s HPV vaccine study at the Jehangir Center for Clinical Development in Pune.
She said there are many misconceptions about the disease, even among the educated population and health care providers.
“It is recommended that teenage girls get HPV vaccinations, and that women aged 30-49 get cervical cancer screening, even if they don’t have symptoms,” she added.
Chakraborty, a gynecologist, said the upcoming Indian vaccine is expected to be effective.
The country’s drug regulator examined data from Cervavac’s immunodeficiency trials conducted at 13 centers across India and approved the vaccine in July. It is expected to generate a strong response in 100% of the vaccine recipients, according to the phase III trials.
“Through this initiative, the goal of eliminating cervical cancer in the country can be achieved,” Joshi added.
Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala, who survived ovarian cancer for ten years, thanked the Ministry of Science and Technology at the event announcing the imminent launch of Cervavac.
“It’s a great day for women in India and around the world, where there is life beyond cancer,” she said.