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To HPV or not to HPV? That is the question


To HPV or not to HPV? That is the question

Who did I go to for advice about getting the vaccine? A well-known comedian who’s been smashing the club circuit for years of course, says Peter Kelly


The TV show Big Brother was launched on Channel 4 in 2000 and it became a ratings hit. This was the future Andy Warhol spoke about when he said “everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.”

Big Brother was a preview of the internet on television before the internet fully came to life. We have now entered the era where anyone can become famous.

Big Brother produced many stars but the biggest was Jade Goody. Jade appeared on the third series of Big Brother and although she did not win, she would go on to capitalise financially from her Big Brother fame more than any other contestant.

Jade was loud and up for partying on the show. She had a drunken hook-up with PJ on the show, who ignored her advances for intimacy the next day. The tabloids initially vilified her for being shameless and ignorant (she famously thought East Anglia was a foreign country).

Then, the tabloids changed their mind and lauded her as an against-the-odds type of survivor and later entrepreneur. She became a hero of many, with a best-selling perfume. She made millions.

She then went back on the Big Brother celebrity version where she got involved in a bullying campaign against a Bollywood superstar Shilpa Shetty. She referred to Shilpa in ways that can only be described as racist.

It was horrific to watch and led to a massive backlash nationally and internationally. Sponsors walked away, public complaints piled up and politicians were asked for their take on the matter. Jade showed some remorse, apologised and agreed to go on the Indian version of the show to try and restore her reputation.

Within days, she had to leave the show because she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died not long after. She was 27.

Jade’s partner would later tell the media that she could have been saved if she had been given the HPV vaccine. This was the first time I became aware of a vaccine to prevent cancer.

There was a big push to give teenage girls to access to the vaccine but there was no understanding at the time of the vaccine being of benefit to boys.

A few years later, the Daily Mail started a campaign urging boys to get the HPV vaccine and for the NHS to fund it. The campaign featured Michael Neill. He was being treated for HPV-associated tonsil cancer. His wife was the editor of the Mail on Sunday.

The vaccine may have prevented his cancer. When I became aware of this story, I wondered whether I should get the vaccine. Luckily, I don’t have phobias but I have rational fears. I am afraid of getting cancer. Statistically we all should be. One in two people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime, according to Cancer research UK.

At the time, I thought I’d probably missed the boat. I am in my late 30s, not teenage years, and I thought the price was high – three doses, £150 each. Recently, I bumped into Ria Lina on the train back to London from the Hastings Fringe Comedy Festival. Ria Lina is a big name on the UK comedy scene. She is a superb comedian who has been smashing the club circuit for years and will be on her first nationwide tour later this year. She often appears on television on shows such as Mock the Weekand Have I Got News For You.

She also has a PhD in virology, so I thought ‘who better to ask about whether I should get the HPV vaccine or not?’ Within 30 seconds, she convinced me to get it and to talk my girlfriend into getting it.

Within two days, I had filled in the form on, got the prescription and had the vaccine. When I asked her ‘should I get it,’ she replied ‘do you like having sex? Get the vaccine. You can’t track the virus in men, its ubiquitous in the sex-having population and it could prevent you getting cancer and also from spreading a virus that could potentially develop into someone else’s cancer nightmare.’

One dose is now considered sufficient, so it’s a lot cheaper. I asked Ria about this and she said ‘to be clear, it isn’t sufficient in all cases. For some, older and/or more vulnerable individuals, it is still recommended that two or three doses are given to ensure greatest efficacy possible. But increasing evidence indicates that one HPV dose can provide similar efficacy to two or three and at least up to 10 years’ post-vaccination.’

The HPV vaccine is not considered worthwhile up to the age of 45. If you fall below that age, I would recommend getting on the case as soon as possible.

By the way, Ria Lina is on tour from September 22 to November 1, 2023 and if you’re interested, tickets are available from


Peter Kelly is a pharmacist based in London and stand-up comedian.




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