Pressure increases on ministers to provide genital warts inoculation to girls from age 12
Saturday 8 October 2011 15.40 EDT
Doctors are urging ministers to mount a sustained attack on the UK’s most common sexually-transmitted infection by immunising 12- and 13-year-old schoolgirls against genital warts.
Influential medical organisations want the jab that is already given to girls of that age to protect them against cervical cancer, to be replaced by one that also safeguards them against warts.
Doctors specialising in public health are pressing the Department of Health (DoH) to switch from the existing Cervarix vaccine to a dual-purpose jab called Gardasil. Genital warts afflict 170,000 people every year.
A decision is expected within the next few weeks on which vaccine should be used in the next four-year programme, starting in September 2012. Discussions with rival drug firms are almost over.
The programme to immunise schoolgirls against cervical cancer has proved highly successful since it began in 2008. Girls aged 12 and 13 who volunteer receive a series of three jabs. The latest DoH figures show that 77% of 12- to 13-year-old girls have had the full course, as have 76% of those aged 13-14, and 84% of 14- and 15-year-olds.
Cervarix protects against strains 16 and 18 of the human papilloma virus (HPV), thought to cause around 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil does too, but also reduces the risk of infection by strains six and 11, linked to more than 90% of cases of genital warts.
The British Medical Association believes ministers should accept “the superior health benefits and cost effectiveness of Gardasil. We strongly believe that Gardasil, which is also effective against HPV6 and 11, is now the better vaccination,” the chairmen of its public health, dermatology and venereology committees have told the DoH. The UK should follow Australia, which saw an instant, huge and sustained drop in cases of genital warts in young women after it introduced Gardasil in 2008.
Dr Colm O’Mahony, chairman of the BMA’s venereology sub-committee, said: “Apart from Holland, the UK is the only other developed country in the world exclusively using Cervarix in the national programme. It is a great shame that such an efficient and well-organised national vaccination campaign missed a glorious opportunity to eradicate this most distressing, time-consuming, expensive and common sexually transmitted infection.”