A woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes in India. The second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in India is also cervical cancer, given that 90% of cases are completely preventable in its early stages.
The sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly all cervical cancer cases. Vaccine hesitancy, lack of awareness, and sexual stigma persists as significant contributors to the death toll. Less than 1% of the nation’s women have been immunized against high-risk HPV strains. This is despite the fact that that two vaccinations (Gardasil and Cervarix) have been on the market since 2008. A major deterrent is the steep cost of the vaccines. The two vaccines are priced at Rs. 3000-4000 per dose.
This is where the Serum Institute of India has stepped in with a historic accomplishment. The institute recently announced the release of the first indigenous vaccine, Cervac, that protects against HPV strains 16 and 18. These strains together account for 70% of all cervical cancer cases worldwide. Ceravac will be significantly more affordable than the cervical cancer vaccinations currently available in the market, costing just Rs. 200–400 per dosage. Comparatively, the current vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are priced each vial at Rs. 3,927 and Rs. 2,640 respectively.
SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla relayed in a statement that the vaccine would be ready for distribution in a few months. Cerevac has the potential to save the lives of women and children all over India and the world if implemented widely. The government has already established 1.2 lakh Health and Wellness Centers (HWCs) under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. 1.5 lakh are expected to be operational by the end of December 2022. Cervical cancer screening programs are presently offered at the HWCs. In addition to incorporating the vaccines into the program, awareness initiatives could also be conducted. Moreover, it can also be integrated with the national immunization program.