By Dr. Phil Hammond
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has famously promised ‘no decision about you without you’ and a strong focus on preventing sexually transmitted infections. As the Department of Health reviews its secretive and sexually unhealthy choice of cervical cancer vaccine, is he brave enough to go public about preventing genital warts?
The Eye has long campaigned for an NHS Human Papilloma Virus vaccine programme with Gardasil to protect women against both cervical cancer and genital warts (Eye 23.3.2007). Labour dithered for 18 months and then chose Cervarix, which protects against cancer only (Eye 16.7.2008). The UK has an excellent cervical screening programme that already prevents 80% of cancers, so although the uptake of the vaccine has been very good, there will be little benefit in terms of lives saved for some years yet. The benefit in preventing genital warts – which are very common, cause untold misery and are fiddly and expensive to treat – would have been much quicker, as other countries have found.
In Australia, 70% of women under 28 have been vaccinated with Gardasil. New cases of genital warts among young women started falling after 6 months and now, 3 years into the programme, they have fallen by nearly 75%1. Even cases among (unvaccinated) heterosexual men fell by one third, due to herd immunity. In contrast, since England’s school-based HPV vaccine programme began in 2008, there has been no significant change in numbers of genital warts with some 91,000 new cases diagnosed each year and a further 70,000 cases undergoing repeat treatments. The highest rates of diagnoses are among women aged 16-19 and men aged 20-24. If you doubt the unpleasantness of warts, these photos will set you straight. Doctors are now facing the anger of women whose sex lives are destroyed because Labour chose the wrong vaccine.