Fight Against Cervical Cancer Advances

National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine vaccination of 11- and 12-year-old girls with new drug that prevents cervical cancer

On June 29, the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the routine vaccination of 11- and 12-year-old girls with a new drug that prevents the development of cervical cancer. The ACIP's recommendation comes less than a month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of the new drug Gardasil, a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer and genital warts caused by four unique strains of the human papillomavirus (or HPV) in women. "This is a huge breakthrough for women's health, for prevention, and for cancer prevention, in particular," Anne Schuchat, a vaccine specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta told The Washington Post.

Interestingly, with the ACIP approval – which reportedly is all but guaranteed acceptance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – opposition to the drug by social conservatives, such as the Family Research Council, appears to have softened: The FRC "continues to endorse both the distribution and the widespread availability of the vaccine," FRC Abstinence Project coordinator Moira Gaul told the daily. Before the vaccine got FDA approval, the FRC and other groups voiced concern that promoting the vaccine might somehow encourage promiscuity. (Reportedly, the FRC changed its tune after meetings with vaccine-maker Merck earlier this year.)

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 6.2 million Americans are infected with HPV each year and that more than half of all sexually active people become infected with it at some point in their lives. Cervical cancer – caused by changes to the cervix brought on by HPV infection – is the second leading cause of death in women worldwide, killing more than 200,000 each year; about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the U.S. and about 4,000 die from it.

The ACIP also recommended that the vaccine – which is approved for use in females ages 8-26, who have never been infected with HPV – be included in the federal Vaccines for Children Program, which provides free shots to uninsured and underinsured children; additionally, Merck announced this spring that it would make the vaccine available to older females in the target age range whose family incomes are up to twice the federal poverty level. While the ACIP does not have the ability to add Gardasil to the list of immunizations required for public school attendance – and while the target age for the vaccine begins at age 11 – its recommendations combined with the expected HHS approval, would clear the way for individual states to require the vaccine.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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