Lawmakers looking to force preteen girls to take Gardasil, a new vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer, are targeting the wrong age group, cancer data shows.
Middle-school girls inoculated with the breakthrough vaccine will be no older than 18 when they pass Gardasil's five-year window of proven effectiveness -- more than a decade before the typical cancer patient contracts the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
Infectious disease specialists and cancer pathologists say the incubation period for HPV becoming cancer is 10 to 15 years -- meaning the average cervical cancer patient, who is 47, contracted the virus in her 30s and would not be protected by Gardasil taken as a teen.
"It is a delicate balancing act," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and cervical cancer control at the American Cancer Society. "If the vaccine is given at too young an age, it may wear off. Yet if it is given too late, it won't work."
Merck & Co. is still studying the longevity of Gardasil, the lone HPV vaccine on the market, which won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in June. But that hadn't impeded its lobbying efforts. Legislators in at least 20 states and cities, including Virginia and the District of Columbia, are considering HPV vaccinations for girls 11 to 13 as a requirement for school attendance. Texas already has done so.
"We are doing further tests and follow-up. But right now, we know it is effective for five years," said Dr. Richard Haupt, executive director of medical affairs in Merck's vaccine division.
Gardasil, a $360 series of three shots over six months, protects against two HPV strains that cause nearly 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. It also prevents two other strains linked to 90 percent of genital warts cases.
Merck, which did not respond to repeated requests for its HPV incubation statistics, unexpectedly suspended its lobbying campaign yesterday.
"Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention. ... We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal," Dr. Haupt told the Associated Press.
Source: Bio-Bio Technology