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scientists comment on JCVI announcement on HPV vaccine

The Government has announced that a vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus, which causes cervical cancer, will be routinely given to all girls aged 12 and 13.

Dr Anne Szarewski, Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, said:

“A vaccination programme against cervical cancer is great news. However, if they are only going to vaccinate one age group, it will take at least 14 years before we see the benefits in terms of fewer abnormal smears and cancers. Let’s hope a decision about a catch up programme to vaccinate older teenagers will be made soon. It would be a great shame if older girls missed out on this unique opportunity.”

Professor Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol Medical School, said:

“This is this first time a universal vaccine programme has been announced in the UK which is aimed specifically to prevent cancer. It is an exciting and challenging development. A lot of work now needs to be done quickly to provide information about the vaccines to be used to the girls who will receive them, their parents, their teachers and the doctors and nurses who will be involved in delivery. A key message will be that immunisation is in addition to, and not instead of cervical screening which will also remain essential for effective prevention of cancer deaths.”

Dr Loretta Brabin, Reader in Women’s Health, University of Manchester, said:

“In Manchester we are working with two primary care trusts to pilot delivery and uptake of HPV vaccination in advance of the national roll-out, and vaccination with the first dose has just started. So far we have not encountered any major obstacles to parental acceptance of vaccination. Parent’s main concern is long term safety and while many do not think their daughters will be at risk of HPV just yet, most understand the need for vaccinating at an early age. Reassuring parents, answering their questions and properly informing adolescent girls themselves about the vaccine takes time, and represents a considerable commitment for school nurses. Similarly, actual delivery of a three-dose vaccine schedule in schools requires organisation, planning and personnel. A lower than expected uptake rate could reflect shortcomings in vaccine delivery as much as parental or child acceptance. So while it is important to start vaccinating 12 years olds as early as possible, it is essential to ensure that PCTs are properly prepared for roll-out.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said:

“This is an exciting step towards preventing cervical cancer in the UK. While the vaccine has the potential to prevent many cases of the disease, the impact of a vaccination programme won’t be felt for many years. Cervical screening remains vital in preventing the disease. We urge all women take up the invitation when they receive it.

“The cervical screening programme is very effective. For women between 25 and 49, three yearly screening prevents 84 cervical cancers out of every 100 that would develop without screening.

“Cancer Research UK’s Screening Matters campaign encourages people to go for screening when invited, and to encourage friends and family to do the same.”

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