SWINDON is leading the way in England for vaccination against a disease which kills more than 1,000 women a year in the UK.

Across the borough 96.2 per cent of girls aged between 12 and 13 years have been vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) in the past year, which protects against the most common cause of cervical cancer.

The take-up rate is the highest in England according to official statistics released by Public Health England and surpasses the national average of 86.1 per cent.

Last year 985 female students received injections.

As part of a systematic and thorough programme, all Year 8 girls in Swindon schools are offered, via their parents or carer, immunisation from a nurse at school. Those absent on vaccination days or who prefer not to receive the injections at school, are systematically contacted and offered the jab at a clinic.

The immunisation initiative is managed by the school nursing service, which is run by the local authority as part of its responsibilities to improve public health.

The vaccine is given as a series of three injections within a six-month period. Apart from mild soreness at the injection site, there are very few side effects.

Alison Bunce, immunisation coordinator for schools, said her team was delighted to have topped the UK table but remained determined to ensure all girls in Swindon were vaccinated against cervical cancer.

“We have a fantastic school nursing service and we receive tremendous support from the schools who work very hard to get all the consent forms back from pupils,” she said. “We also chase up the girls who have missed an appointment. It’s that tenacity to make sure they are immunised that showed results.

“We make sure that they all complete the immunisation and we always go back into schools for ad hoc catch-ups with the girls.

“The system we have here works and this year we’ve maintained our target but we won’t sit back and relax. The goal is to make sure that as many girls as possible are protected against the virus.”

HPV is a common virus which can infect both men and women, and is spread through sexual intercourse.

Most people who are sexually active will have HPV at some time during their life. Many will not experience any symptoms and remain unaware that they have HPV.

The body’s immune system is usually able to get rid of an HPV infection, and for most people infections come and go without causing any problems.

But two types of the virus cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, and another two strains cause 90 per cent of cases of genital warts. The vaccine protects against all four.

Coun Brian Mattock, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “This is an excellent result and testament to the persistence of the entire school nursing service team, and the support they receive from Swindon schools. “Without the support of the schools the uptake would not have been as high.”

The programme has been in operation for five years, and while Swindon has previously achieved the best immunisation rate in the South West, this is the first time it has topped the national table.

Around 3,100 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year. Overall, just two out of every 100 cancers diagnosed in women are cervical. But it is the most common cancer in women under 35 years old.

Teenage girls remain eligible to receive the course of vaccinations up to 18 years old. Those who have not yet received the vaccination should call 01793 465676 to book an appointment.