Background Cervical cancer elimination through human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programs requires the attainment of herd effect. Due to its uniquely high basic reproduction number, the vaccination coverage required to achieve herd effect against HPV type 16 exceeds what is attainable in most populations. We have compared how gender-neutral and girls-only vaccination strategies create herd effect against HPV16 under moderate vaccination coverage achieved in a population-based, community-randomized trial. Methods and findings In 2007-2010, the 1992-1995 birth cohorts of 33 Finnish communities were randomized to receive gender-neutral HPV vaccination (Arm A), girls-only HPV vaccination (Arm B), or no HPV vaccination (Arm C) (11 communities per trial arm). HPV16/18/31/33/35/45 seroprevalence differences between the pre-vaccination era (2005-2010) and post-vaccination era (2011-2016) were compared between all 8,022 unvaccinated women <23 and C, respectively). Post- versus pre-vaccination-era HPV seroprevalence ratios (PRs) were compared by arm. Possible outcome misclassification was quantified via probabilistic bias analysis. An HPV16 and HPV18 seroprevalence reduction was observed post-vaccination in the gender-neutral vaccination arm in the entire study population (PR16 = 0.64, 95% CI 0.10-0.85; PR18 = 0.72, 95% CI 0.22-0.96) and for HPV16 also in the herpes simplex virus type 2 seropositive core group (PR16 = 0.64, 95% CI 0.50-0.81). Observed reductions in HPV31/33/35/45 seroprevalence (PR31/33/35/45 = 0.88, 95% CI 0.81-0.97) were replicated in Arm C (PR31/33/35/45 = 0.79, 95% CI 0.69-0.90). Conclusions In this study we only observed herd effect against HPV16/18 after gender-neutral vaccination with moderate vaccination coverage. With only moderate vaccination coverage, a gender- neutral vaccination strategy can facilitate the control of even HPV16. Our findings may have limited transportability to other vaccination coverage levels.
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