Cancer, Misinformation, and Education: Why Canada is Far Behind Rwanda's Vaccine Coverage
Compare these three countries:
Country A: 70% vaccine coverage
Country B: 60% vaccine coverage
Country C: 93% vaccine coverage
These are real statistics from 2018 showing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine coverage for the appropriate age and gender group.
Country A is Canada. Country B is the United States. And country C? That’s Rwanda.
If this surprises you, you’re not alone. After all, on almost all economic and health indicators, Canada and the United States do better than Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world, where most people make less than $1.25 per day. Compared to Canada and the United States, Rwanda doesn’t have as much funding for health care, education, or other basic needs.
In fact, take a look around the world, and you’ll see how extraordinary Rwanda is doing. Based on 2018 statistics, Denmark was at 40% coverage for the HPV vaccine, Ireland was around 51%, and Japan was less than 1%!
It’s not like HPV is a minor infection, either. Although most HPV infections will not cause permanent harm, cells infected with the virus can become pre-cancerous or cancerous over time. It’s the main cause of cervical cancer, and can also cause throat, penile and other cancers too.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about HPV is how common it is. About 75% of sexually active people will get at least one HPV infection at some point.
It’s basically an anti-cancer vaccine. Yet the vaccination rate in these countries is surprisingly low.
All of these developed countries have one thing in common: the widespread fear of the HPV vaccine due to misinformation. When it comes to the HPV vaccine, there is a lot of incorrect information on the internet. Many inaccurate websites falsely claim that HPV vaccine can cause paralysis or even death! It can be very scary to read these myths, especially if they also include stories from people who think that vaccines caused them harm. These false stories really make a difference: Denmark’s HPV vaccine coverage was nearly 90% before a 2015 false HPV story went viral, lowering it to about 40% by 2018.
Worldwide, there have been over 280 million doses of the HPV vaccine given, and it’s been proven to be safe and effective. There have also been years of research by thousands of scientists that say that the vaccine is safe.
So how does Rwanda do so well when Canada and other countries are struggling against bad information and myths?
The key is education.
The best way to fight misinformation is to provide accurate information through trusted sources. This is where Rwanda has done much better than Canada. Everyone from teachers, religious leaders, community leaders, health workers, and politicians all worked together to educate everyone in Rwanda about the HPV vaccine. They made sure that teachers taught students about HPV, and health workers educated community groups about the importance of the vaccine. They made sure that people were able to ask experts about HPV vaccine myths, which helped everyone learn scientifically proven information. At the same time, different branches of government joined efforts to make sure everyone was able to get the vaccine. Watch the video about the Rwandan vaccination campaign to learn more:
Education and information really work. With a campaign to increase awareness and health literacy, Denmark was able to substantially increase their HPV vaccine rates.
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