Europe Agrees on Sale of Cervical Cancer Vaccine
September 25, 2006
On Friday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, approved the sale of the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil in EU member states. Manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur and Merck & Co., Gardasil protects against four HPV types that cause most genital warts and cervical cancers. In the United Kingdom, women may buy Gardasil privately: At present, the National Health Service has not decided whether to offer it.
It is thought the Gardasil vaccine, a three-dose series administered in a six-month course, could reduce cervical cancer deaths by 70 percent.
Vaccination is recommended for girls before they are sexually active, which has upset some Christian groups. Nevertheless, a British government survey of parents' attitudes to early vaccination in July found little widespread evidence of opposition to an HPV immunization campaign.
"The advent of a vaccine against HPV is a very exciting development in cancer prevention," said Alex Markham, CEO of Cancer Research UK. "Current vaccines do not prevent all cancer-related HPV strains. If a national vaccination program is introduced, it will be vital that women continue to attend for cervical smears."
Most sexually active women will acquire an HPV infection at some point in their life, but HPV infection's progression to cervical cancer is a rarer occurrence. Still, more than 1,000 UK women die annually from cervical cancer, and most cases are caused by HPV infection.
Gardasil has been licensed for sale in the United States, Australia and Mexico. The competitor HPV vaccine candidate, GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, may receive EU approval by early next year.
A Department of Health spokesperson commented about the possibility of a future HPV vaccination program. "We are seeking expert advice from the joint committee on vaccination and immunization on the efficacy, safety and benefits that these new vaccines may offer," said the spokesperson.
The Guardian (London)