In April 2014, a national school-based human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program was rolled out in South Africa, targeting Grade 4 girls aged ≥9 years. A bivalent HPV vaccine with a 2-dose (6 months apart) schedule was used. At the request of the National Department of Health (NDoH), an external assessment of the first-dose phase of the vaccination program was conducted to evaluate program coverage and vaccine safety and identify factors that influenced implementation.
The researchers based their cross-sectional and mixed-methods approach on a process evaluation framework, which included a review of key planning and implementation documents and monitoring data; observation at vaccination sites; key informant interviews (N=34); and an assessment of media coverage and content related to the campaign.
There was overall success in key measures of coverage and safety. Over 350,000 Grade 4 girls were vaccinated in more than 16,000 public schools across South Africa, which translated to 94.6% of schools reached and 86.6% of age-eligible learners vaccinated. No major adverse events following immunization were detected. We attributed the campaign’s successes to careful planning and coordination and strong leadership from the NDoH. The primary challenges we identified were related to obtaining informed consent, vulnerabilities in cold chain capacity, and onsite management of minor adverse events. While campaign planners anticipated and prepared for some negative media coverage, they did not expect the use of social media for spreading misinformation about HPV vaccination.
The first phase of the national school-based HPV vaccination campaign was successfully implemented at scale in this setting. Future implementation will require improvement in the storage and monitoring of vaccine doses, better communication of role expectations to all stakeholders, and streamlined consent processes to ensure program sustainability.