A new awareness campaign about a vaccine programme at schools has been launched today, in a bid to help parents better understand how it can help their children.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman today announced the campaign to inform parents and caregivers about HPV (human papillomavirus) immunisation.

The HPV vaccine Gardasil has already been available to girls in Year 8, but will now be extended to include boys as well.

The programme was controversial to some, as Gardasil is more widely known to protect against cervical cancer. But HPV also causes other cancers in both men and women, according to the Science Media Centre.


Coleman said New Zealand was among a growing number of countries, including Australia, providing free HPV immunisation schemes to boys and girls.

"In Budget 2016, the Government invested an extra $124 million to enable Pharmac to further increase access to new medicines.

"Pharmac announced last July it was widening access to HPV and chickenpox vaccinations.''

HPV-related cancers caused more than 50 deaths, every year, in New Zealand - most of which were preventable, he said.

"A growing proportion of throat cancers are caused by HPV and they affect males at higher rates than females.

"Immunisation protects both males and females from most cancers caused by HPV.''

Auckland University associate professor Nikki Turner, who is the director for the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said the vaccine programme was a positive.

"Parents need to be aware that the vaccine is expected to be highly effective against a range of very nasty cancers and against genital warts.

"It has a well-established international safety record, [but] beware for those young people who may faint with needles.''

Turner also pointed out that vaccinating young teenagers was a better move.

"Younger people have a stronger immune response to the vaccine than as we get older. So the recommendation is that for young people under 15 years of age, they only need two doses.

"Whereas if someone misses out on getting the vaccine when they are younger, they need three doses to be as effective. This is a good reason not to delay vaccinating younger teenagers.''