Residents of the Chinese mainland now have access to a nine-way HPV vaccine－which works against up to nine types of HPV－after the medication was given the nod by China's top drug administration.
It is the third HPV vaccine approved for the mainland market since the middle of last year. Such vaccines have proved effective against cervical cancer, the second-most common cancer among Chinese women aged 15 to 44, after breast cancer.
Experts say China has around 130,000 new cases of cervical cancer each year, accounting for more than 28 percent of the world total.
Although HPV vaccines were approved in foreign markets a decade ago, China did not introduce the vaccine until July, when a two-way HPV vaccine was approved for the mainland market. A more powerful four-way vaccine followed in March.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is common, but most people with the virus never develop symptoms or health problems. Most HPV infections go away by themselves within two years, according to experts. But sometimes infections last longer and can cause certain cancers and other diseases.
In most cases, HPV spreads via unprotected sex while timely treatment enabled by regular HPV screening works to clear the infection and helps avoid development of cervical cancer.
Before the availability of vaccines on the mainland, people had to travel to other countries or to Hong Kong to get the vaccine, which is injected in three separate doses over a span of six months.
During an inspection in Shanghai in April, Premier Li Keqiang urged drug authorities to speed up approval of HPV vaccines after learning that large numbers of mainland residents travel to Hong Kong for them.
The nine-way version was approved for clinical trials late last year.
On April 28, the China Drug Administration－part of the newly created State Administration for Market Regulation－approved it for market.
"The move helps meet the public need for such vaccines and provides a new and effective means of preventing cervical cancer," the administration said in a statement.
The latest vaccine helps females between 16 and 26 prevent HPV-related diseases, including cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers, the administration said.
HPV vaccines are most effective in people who have not been exposed to the virus, whether through sexual behavior or other means. The recommended age range for vaccination in the US is 9 to 26. In China, the two-way vaccine is recommended for women between 9 and 25. Its four-way counterpart is recommended for women 20 to 45.
Australia－the first country to offer free HPV vaccinations for 12-and 13-year-old girls, and catch-up programs for girls and women under 26－has seen a sharp decline in HPV infections since the introduction of a national school-based vaccination program in 2007.
Within a decade, the proportion of 18-to 24-year-old women with HPV in the country has fallen from 22.7 percent to 1.5 percent.