CMed Clinical Services
The NHS campaign to vaccinate girls against the future risk of developing cervical cancer has been a success, according to government figures.
Over 84% of girls now aged 13-14 have received all three doses of GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix, which blocks the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Since HPV is the cause of 70% of cervical cancers, the immunisation programme – which began in September 2008 – should prevent up to 400 deaths a year, says public health minister Anne Milton.
More than four million doses of Cervarix have been given so far, with 76.4% of girls aged 12-13 having three doses in the second year of the programme.
In all, 60.4% of 12-19 year olds have had the full course, which the government says is twice as many as in the US. ‘Catch-up’ campaigns for girls aged 14-18 were introduced by the NHS in 2009.
“Being able to help protect young women against this disease is a fantastic development and the uptake is very encouraging,” said Milton.
“But we can always do more,” she added. “I would ask every girl between 12 and 18 who has not considered vaccination or who has not completed the full course to speak to their school or GP – all three doses are needed for full protection,” she added.
Health campaigners agreed. “It is encouraging to see that many girls are getting vaccinated against HPV but we would like to see this increase further,” said Robert Music, director of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
If uptake rises to 80% year on year, there could be a two-thirds reduction in cervical cancer incidence in women under 30 by 2025, the charity says.
In September 2008 Cervarix and its rival Gardasil, manufactured by Sanofi-Pasteur, were jointly awarded the prestigious UK Prix Galien award. Handed out biannually, the gong rewards innovative new drugs which represent the greatest advances in patient care.
But the NHS programme itself has been controversial on several grounds.
In the first instance, there was heated media discussion on the merit of vaccinating pre-pubescent girls against HPV, which can be transmitted through sexual contact.
And Cervarix, chosen by the government in a head-to-head pitch with Gardasil, does not offer the same protection as the Sanofi drug.
Cervarix and Gardasil are the only vaccines available to guard against HPV, but the latter also offers protection against genital warts – again caused by HPV.
Gardasil has been chosen by a number of countries for their own national vaccination campaigns, including France and Australia.
Critics criticised the (then Labour) government for what they saw as a missed opportunity to further protect young women.