Sarah Kimani, 44, is an award-winning journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is also a mother of two girls aged 15 years and 2 years. At the age of 13 years, Sarah’s older daughter received the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent cervical cancer. I had a chat with her about it, including the cost of the vaccine, if there were any side effects, and if she had any concerns about the vaccine.
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This is Sarah’s story.
Thank you, Sarah, for your time. Tell us more about taking your daughter for the HPV vaccine.
At the time she was getting the vaccine at 13 years, the government had already started the campaign about two years earlier. The first time I took her (she was aged 11 years then), the nurses informed me that she was already late for it as they advise that girls get the vaccine before 10 years.
I went to two other different government health facilities, but the feedback was the same: that she was late. Their main concern was that they weren’t sure if my daughter was already sexually active, and I really didn’t want to argue with them since I knew my daughter. And since I wanted her to get the vaccine before she went to Form One, I opted to get the vaccine at a private hospital.
Tell us about the vaccine at the private hospital
When I went to the private hospital, I learnt that there was a vaccine that prevented more cancers of the female reproductive health system. I was presented with two options:
- One that prevents at least 17 other cancers
- One that prevents at least 35 other cancers
That there was a vaccine that could prevent many more reproductive health cancers sounded like something I wanted to take for my daughter. I chose the latter.
How did you prepare your daughter for the vaccination?
My daughter is slightly older than her classmates, and a good number of them had gotten the vaccine at the age of 10 years, so she knew about it. She’d talk to me about it, asking me when she would get it too. I found her to be fairly knowledgeable about it. There seems to have been a lot of information sharing among her peers.
It also happened that at that time, my aunt had received a breast cancer diagnosis, so there was a lot of talk about cancer in the family. It was therefore easier to discuss the vaccine with my daughter at that time.
It also helps that in Kenya there is a culture of vaccination where information is widely circulated publicly through the media, in schools, community forums etc., so the issue of vaccination was not foreign to her.
Tell us about the vaccine administration
My daughter was given the vaccine in 2 doses, 6 months apart. She received it in the arm. While my daughter has a phobia for needles, the nurse who gave it to her handled her quite well. She was very welcoming and had an air of confidence around her that reassured us. She was this motherly, matronly figure who put us at ease.
The nurse began by asking my daughter a few questions and counselling her about the importance of healthy behavioural practices as she blossoms into a young woman. She gave my daughter information in a way that she could easily understand. I liked how she handled the whole experience for my daughter.
What documents were required for the vaccination?
Just the regular immunization schedule booklet that each child has that details all the vaccines they have received from birth. They are very strict about that, for records purposes.
Did your daughter experience any side effects?
She only had a slight swelling where the vaccine was administered. The swelling lasted two days.
How much did you pay for the HPV vaccine?
I paid Sh35,000 for this vaccine. I paid it in two instalments. I however find the cost for the non-government vaccines very prohibitive for those who would like to get it –in the event they miss the free government one. I’ll ensure that I take my younger daughter for the government one when her time comes.
Had you heard about any conspiracy theories about the vaccine?
Yes, I had. Additionally, as a journalist, I have reported on the issue of vaccines several times. I have also covered women ailing from cervical cancer, only to later learn that they had died. I weighed the pros and cons and made my decision. I didn’t need a lot of convincing.
Today, I’m an HPV vaccine advocate and I talk to my relatives and friends who have daughters about it. Two of my friend’s daughters recently turned 10 years, and I talked to them about the importance of taking their daughters for the HPV vaccine, which they did.
Do you feel that your daughter is now protected from cervical cancer?
The vaccine is one thing, but behaviour is equally important. I regularly have ‘the talk’ with my daughter because I know of the other risk factors that may predispose her to diseases. It is something that I’ll keep doing as she grows. However, having the vaccine reassures me that she’s better protected from getting cervical cancer and other reproductive health cancers.
Having seen, first hand, how devastating cervical cancer can be, I encourage parents with daughters to take advantage of the vaccine –now that we have it available in Kenya. At least we have that choice as a country.
Some may say that giving your daughter the vaccine may encourage them to be sexually active, but it depends on how you deal with it. I encourage parents to access it for their daughters. It is a step in the right direction, and it is up to us to embrace any medical advances that arise.
Thank you very much Sarah for sharing your experience.
What are your thoughts on this article? What do you think about the cervical cancer vaccine? Has your daughter taken it? You may comment down below. If you have an experience you’d like to share, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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