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Cervical cancer vaccination for both sexes recommended

Researchers investigating the best strategy for using cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, have shown that the greatest reduction in disease rates is achieved when both sexes are vaccinated

Researchers investigating the best strategy for using cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, have shown that the greatest reduction in disease rates is achieved when both sexes are vaccinated.

The study, which was published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal from the US Centers for Disease Control, found that highest reduction levels are achieved if both male and females are targeted before the age of 12 years, with over 90 per cent of disease cases caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) wiped out, compared with approximately 75 per cent if girls alone are vaccinated. The reductions are achieved more quickly if 'catch up' programmes for adolescents and young adults up to the age of 24 also occur.

Gardasil was shown to be 100 per cent effective in preventing infection by HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18, with protection ongoing for five years and expected to last much longer. Data also support protection from HPV strains 31 and 45.

German pharmaceutical company, Merck KGaA and sanofi-aventis' vaccines research arm, Sanofi-Pasteur, developed Gardasil, which is one of two HPVs currently on the market - the other being GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Cervarix. Both vaccines target strains which cause 75 per cent of all cervical cancer cases and may offer protection from less common ones. The vaccines prevent cervical cancer and genital warts by stimulating the body's immune response to HPV, avoiding infection in the first place.

The current model proposed by the Merck/Sanofi-Pasteur team, which was lead by Professor Elamin H Elbasha, proposes that 70 per cent of 12-year-olds will be vaccinated before they start having sex. The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is deciding how the vaccine should be introduced. Ministers would then have to decide if it is cost-effective, as price per treatment could be in the region of GBP 150 to GBP 250.

Elsewhere, US health authorities have recommended the routine vaccination of females aged between 11 and 12, with a catch up programme for those between 13 and 26 years of age. Any programme including males for vaccination would add greatly to costs, but even including vaccination of females and males at 11 years (plus catch-up programme) exhibited a cost per year of life value of GBP 23,000. The figure is still lower than the limit imposed by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) of GBP 30,000.

The news comes at the same time as concerns over the rising number of UK women failing to attend their five-yearly cervical smear tests. Although the screening programme has reduced cervical cancer rates in the UK, Department of Health figures show that three women a day die of cervical cancer. Also, Jo's Trust, a UK cervical cancer charity, has attacked the government for being too slow to introduce a cervical cancer immunisation programme.

24th January 2007

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