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Panel: HPV Vaccine for Young Girls

Advisory Committee Wants Girls Age 11 and Up to Get New Cervical Cancer Vaccine
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 sexually active.

The vaccine, known as Gardasil, prevents infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus known to cause most cervical cancers and genital warts.

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.

Early Vaccinations

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 benefits.

"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 Cancer Society.

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.

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