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HPV vaccination 'effective' says EU report

Vaccinating adolescent girls against human papillomavirus is an effective strategy against cervical cancer, according to a report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Vaccinating adolescent girls against human papillomavirus (HPV) is an effective strategy against cervical cancer, according to a report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). 

The report identifies that the key group to be vaccinated is young adolescent girls who have not yet become sexually active, although catch-up programmes for slightly older girls could be helpful in bringing forward the benefits of the vaccine.

However, the report cautions that cervical screening is still needed, and the HPV vaccine should be complementary to such programmes. 

"Vaccinating young adolescent girls against the Human Papillomavirus is likely to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer, provided that cervical cancer screening programmes are maintained. HPV vaccination programmes do not eliminate the need for cervical cancer screening, even for women who have been vaccinated.  Screening and HPV vaccination need to be made to work together in a cost-effective way that produces maximum benefit for women," said Professor Johan Giesecke, ECDC's chief scientist. 

The panel reviewed both available HPV vaccines, GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Cervarix and Sanofi Pasteur MSD's Gardasil. 

Both protect against HPV types 16 and 18, the viruses that are responsible for an estimated 73 per cent of cervical cancer cases in Europe.  

The panel concluded that giving them to adolescent girls before they become sexually active would provide the maximum benefit. 

"The exact age range of this group will vary from country to country, depending on the average age at which girls become sexually active, but will typically be in the range of 12-15 years old," said the ECDC.  

The report finds school-based immunisation is likely to be the lowest cost option for the delivery of vaccines to young adolescent girls, although this option will vary from country to country. Doctors' surgeries and medical clinics are also considered to be important places for girls to receive immunisation. 

ECDC produced its report on HPV vaccines at the request of the European Commission and several of the EU Member States.  

The report aims to assist Member States in decision making on the introduction of HPV vaccines by reviewing evidence of their likely public health impact and setting out policy options arising from the evidence. A panel of independent coordinated by ECDC experts was set up to conduct the analysis. ECDC scientists and ECDC's Advisory Forum (which brings together senior scientists from the Member States) then reviewed the findings of the panel.

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK have recommended routine HPV vaccination for pre-adolescent girls. 

Most have also adopted a catch-up programme for adolescent girls and young women. Similar recommendations were made in the US, Canada and Australia.

23rd January 2008

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