Switch in cervical cancer vaccine

HPV on a smear The human papilloma virus can cause cervical cancer and genital warts

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The Department of Health has decided to change the vaccine it uses to protect girls against cervical cancer throughout the UK.

From September next year it will use the Gardasil jab, which also offers protection against genital warts - one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.

Some sexual health experts criticised the decision in 2008 when the Department of Health opted for the cheaper of the two vaccines on offer - Cervarix.

Both vaccines protect against human papilloma virus (HPV) types 16 and 18, which cause more than 70% of cervical cancer.

But Gardasil, which the Department of Health has now opted for, also protects against HPV types six and 11 which cause nearly all genital warts.

Figures from the Health Protection Agency show that 75,000 people were diagnosed with genital warts in 2010.

Professor David Salisbury, the Government's Director of Immunisation, said: "It's not unusual for the NHS to change vaccines or other medicines - it can happen following competitive tendering exercises or when new research findings come to light."

He denied that the wrong choice of vaccine had been made three years ago, adding that the decisions then and now were both "scientifically and economically justifiable".

Dr Steve Taylor, consultant in sexual health medicine at Birmingham Heartlands hospital said the news was "fantastic".

He added: "In Australia the burden of genital warts has fallen dramatically since the introduction of the quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil).

"We felt last time round the decision was based on the vaccine cost, and yet the reduction in the burden on sexual health clinics was not taken into account."

Gardasil, made by Sanofi Pasteur MSD, is the most widely used of the two vaccines. Eighty million doses have been distributed worldwide compared to 25m of Cervarix, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

Girls are offered the HPV vaccine at secondary school when aged 12-13.

The Department of Health says 400 deaths a year from cervical cancer will be prevented by the vaccination programme.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • Comment number 42.

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    Comment number 41.

    @38: Vaccines cause the immune system to develop antibodies against a dead and safe form of a virus so when the real virus is encountered they are already there. These last a lifetime, barring a total blood transplant. Where on earth did you get the 5 year figure? We give it to 12 year olds so it takes effect before they become sexually active, preempting exposure.

  • Comment number 40.

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    Comment number 39.

    If we can vaccine against cervical cancer, be sure it works and gain public trust we can eliminate the need for cervical screening. A single course of vaccination or a lifetime of regular checks? It would save vast amounts of Dr and nurse time, not to mention NHS cost, for people who need treatment and not "just in case" checking.
    And yes, we should also treat boys.

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    Comment number 38.

    Questions to ponder?
    What age do women become sick with this cancer? I'm presuming that it is predominantly women over the age of 18?
    Why do we give the 'vaccine' to 12-13 year olds? Most vaccines (the ones that actually work that is) only have an immunity life of around 5 years.
    I seriously question the science related to this vaccine and suspect lifestyle choices (tampons) etc. to be the cause


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