Exclusive: HPV jab could roll out to over-18s

England and Scotland push to extend vaccination beyond school years.

The roll-out of the HPV vaccination programme may be extended to include women over the age of 18.

In February, the DoH updated the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccination (JCVI) on how it was dealing with the implementation of the HPV programme.

The DoH told the JCVI that it 'will provide guidance to PCTs and GPs on the vaccination of women aged 18 and over in due course'.

A spokeswoman for the DoH confirmed that it was considering plans to introduce the vaccine for women aged 18 and over, but that it was too early to say whether it would go ahead and what role GPs would play.

Discussions are also taking place in Scotland as to whether or not the jab should be given to women up to the age of 25.

Shona Robison, public health minister for Scotland, said that the vaccine could offer some benefit to older women, especially those who have had limited exposure to HPV through sexual contact.

'We are continuing to look at whether there is something that could be done for that group of women who may have newly acquired HPV infection, but we have not reached any conclusions on that,' she said.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, RCGP spokeswoman for women's health, welcomed the proposals to vaccinate older women.

'There are already a lot of women coming forward who are asking to have the HPV jabs,' she said. 'The evidence is there to support giving the jabs to older women.'

Studies have shown that in a group of previously HPV-negative women aged 24-45 years, Gardasil was highly effective at preventing both persistent HPV infection and disease associated with the HPV strains 16 and 18 included in the vaccine.

However, Professor Margaret Stanley, an adviser to the JCVI HPV subgroup, said: 'It is unlikely that the HPV vaccination programme will be extended to include older women as it is just too costly to do.'

The vaccination programme is scheduled to begin in England, Scotland and Wales from this September. It will target schoolgirls aged 11 and 12 and will be carried out by school nurses.

A catch-up programme for girls up to the age of 18 will start in Scotland this September, with the English scheme starting in September 2009.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com 

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