Panel: HPV Vaccine for Young Girls
Advisory Committee Wants Girls Age 11 and Up to Get New Cervical Cancer Vaccine
June 29, 2006 - A government panel today recommended that girls as young as
11 routinely get a new vaccine against cervical cancer, which prevents
infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus known
to cause most cervical cancers and genital warts.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the
government on vaccine policies, unanimously backed widespread use of the
vaccine in preadolescent girls in hopes of protecting them before most become
The vaccine, known as Gardasil, prevents infection with human papillomavirus
(HPV), a sexually transmitted virus known to cause most cervical cancers and
If the panel's recommendation is approved by the Bush administration,
Gardasil would join vaccines against measles, whooping
cough, chicken pox, and other diseases on the list of routine shots
for all American children.
Such approval would also qualify Gardasil for inclusion in a federal program
that provides free vaccines for low-income children.
"This is a huge breakthrough for women's health and for prevention and
for cancer prevention,"
said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases
at the CDC.
The vaccine received the unanimous consent of an FDA panel earlier this
month after the drug company Merck showed it was nearly 100% effective in
preventing HPV infections.
But the vaccine is only effective in preventing -- not treating -- HPV
infections in women, which are highly common. Public health experts urged early
vaccinations, before girls become sexually active, to maximize its
"It was important for the committee that their recommendations offer the
vaccine before most girls would have the onset of sexual activity,"
Schuchat said. "To have the maximum preventative impact, the decision was
to target 11- and 12-year-olds."
The committee said the vaccine could be safely given to girls as young as 9,
at the discretion of parents and doctors.
Invasive cervical cancer is expected to be diagnosed in more than 9,700
American women this year, and to kill roughly 3,700, according to the American
Today's recommendation met with praise from women's health groups.
But early vaccination troubles some conservative groups, who worry it might
encourage girls to become sexually active.
Charmaine Yoest, a spokeswoman for the conservative Family Research Council,
says the group "welcomes" today's vote. But she also says the group
opposes putting Gardasil on the list of childhood vaccines required as a
condition of attending school.
"This isn't something you get from a sneeze in a classroom, so there is
no need to make it mandatory," she tells WebMD.
The vaccine contains four HPV subtypes. Two cause most cervical cancers; the
other two cause most genital warts. It's designed to be
given in a series of three shots.
Multiple vaccine shots are not uncommon, but some health experts worry the
vaccine's $120-per-shot cost could limit widespread access.
"Vaccine financing is an enormous issue," Schuchat said.
Inclusion on CDC's routine immunization schedule would qualify Gardasil for
the federal Vaccines for Children Program, which provides free vaccines to
youngsters who are uninsured or who are Medicaid recipients, Native Americans,
or Alaska Natives.
Most, but not all, private insurance companies also use the CDC schedule to
decide which vaccines they will cover.
Emily Stewart, a policy analyst with the Planned Parenthood Federation of
American, praised the vaccine in a statement before the committee today. She
called the panel's recommendation critical to guaranteeing coverage by
insurance companies and the government.
"Access to the vaccine should be a public health priority," she