Women's Health: New vaccine recommended for young women

Canadian experts call for widespread immunization against cervical cancer virus

Canadian girls and women ages nine to 26 should be vaccinated against a virus responsible for many cases of cervical cancer, according to a national committee of experts.

According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which makes recommendations on vaccine use in Canada, this age group would benefit most from immunization against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted organism that causes genital warts and cancer of the cervix.

The vaccine (brand name Gardasil) was approved in 2006 by Health Canada. It is effective against two types of HPV that are estimated to cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers as well as two types that cause the majority of genital warts.

NACI says the vaccine would be most beneficial in girls who haven’t yet started sexual intercourse, as well as young women who probably have not already been exposed to all the HPV types covered by the vaccine. The recommendations state there is no information on the vaccine’s effectiveness in women older than 26, but use of the vaccine in this group can be “considered in individual circumstances.”

The NACI statement was welcomed by doctors who treat cervical cancer. “We call upon the provincial governments to rapidly implement vaccination as a cancer prevention strategy against HPV types known to cause the majority of cervical cancers,” says Dr. Joan Murphy, chairwoman of a task force on cervical cancer prevention and control for the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada.

Whether to include new vaccines in publicly funded immunization programs is up to the individual provinces and territories. But the Public Health Agency of Canada, which NACI advises, has formed a working group to consider vaccine program recommendations. “We’re looking at the issues of feasibility, cost-effectiveness issues as well as acceptability in order to minimize the amount of duplication that will have to occur throughout the country,” says Dr. Shelley Deeks, a senior medical specialist with the agency.

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