The British government took a step Wednesday toward offering vaccinations against cervical cancer for girls as young as 12, a measure that could be carried out by late next year. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended the use of vaccines to guard against the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection which causes most cases of cervical cancer.
The Department of Health said it had agreed "in principle" to accept the body's advice, but would wait for an independent review of the costs to the National Health Service. Cervical cancer kills more than 1,000 women in Britain annually. The vaccinations would be offered to girls throughout Britain, but would not be compulsory.
Currently, there are two vaccines -- Gardasil made by Merck and Sanofi Pasteur and Cervarix made by GlaxoSmithKline -- which are designed to be used in an immunisation programme. Gardasil was introduced to Britain last year. The government has not approved it for use on the National Health Service, although Britain's Press Association news agency said it has been approved in dozens of other countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia.
Cervarix is expected to receive its European Union licence later this year. Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "It is great news that vaccines have been developed that protect women against this form of cancer and I am delighted to announce that we intend, in principle, to introduce a HPV vaccine into the national immunisation programme."
"A significant amount of planning is required before we can introduce the immunisation into our programme," she said. "We are still working on the details and logistics, and will work closely with the NHS to ensure the vaccination can be delivered effectively.
However, we are hoping that girls will start being vaccinated from as early as 2008." The department said smear testing would continue after the vaccine is introduced.