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HPV vaccination programme to start in England

UK government ministers will announce a vaccination programme to prevent cervical cancer

From September 2008, girls aged between 12 and 13 years in England will be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV). Similar programmes are expected from the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government.

Earlier in 2007, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended routine vaccination for 11 to 12-year olds, including the possibility of a catch-up campaign, but only up to the age of 16. The revised programme extends the catch-up campaign to young women aged up to 18 years. Parents will have the final say on whether their daughters will receive the vaccination or not.

The UK government wanted further evidence on the cost benefits of a programme before making a final decision. A vaccination programme is already underway in the US.

Two marketed vaccines currently exist: Merck & Co's and Sanofi-Pasteur's Gardasil, which has been approved in 76 countries; and GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Cervarix, which has been launched in the UK. Both vaccines cost approximately GBP 300 for three injections over six months. Until the announcement, the committee had not made a recommendation as to which of the vaccines should be used.

Approximately 80 per cent of sexually active women can expect to have an HPV infection at some point in their lives and the virus in its various forms causes 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, a disease which kills 274,000 women worldwide every year, including 1,120 in the UK.

In 2006, a Lancet editorial called for mandatory vaccination against HPV for girls in all EU member states once they are 11 or 12. Other European countries including Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Luxembourg and Belgium have approved a vaccination programme.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said: "As a society we need to do more to prevent disease and not just treat it. Now more than ever before we need to make the NHS a service that prevents ill health and prioritises keeping people well."

Wall Street analysts have predicted Gardasil sales will far surpass USD 1bn a year by 2010, which is a very high margin for a vaccine. On the analysts' blog, they said that although US sales of Gardasil were USD 358m in Q2 FY07, following a Q1 FY07 posting of USD 365m, this did not mean that the slight decrease was due to the controversy which erupted in February 2007, after it was discovered that Merck was lobbying state legislatures for mandatory vaccination program for preteen girls. The fall in Gardasil sales between quarters was not a surprise, since many US states were stocking up on the vaccine in Q1, as part of a federally funded vaccine programme.

30th September 2008

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