HPV vaccine plan may hit smear test uptake

HPV vaccination for schoolgirls aged 12 and 13 will be introduced as early as autumn next year, after receiving the green light from the DoH.

But experts have stressed the importance of continuing the national cervical cancer-screening programme.

The DoH has accepted in principle the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's HPV subgroup that the vaccine be introduced routinely for schoolgirls in the UK, subject to independent peer review of the cost-benefit analysis.

It is thought that a national immunisation programme could prevent 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer.

Two candidate HPV vaccines are available. Gardasil is already on the market, while authorisation for Cervarix is expected before the end of the year.

Public health minister Caroline Flint said the benefits of introducing the vaccine would be felt by women and their families for generations to come.

But Ms Flint warned: 'A significant amount of planning is required before we can introduce the immunisation into our programme.'

Dr Sarah Jarvis, RCGP spokeswoman on women's health, said the introduction of the vaccine would increase GP's short-term workload but would mean fewer referrals in the long term for cervical cancer and other conditions such as genital warts.

'Even if the decision is made for community nurses to carry out the vaccination, GPs will still need to educate patients about it,' Dr Jarvis said.

'GPs will also have to work harder to encourage women to come in for their smear tests.'

Dr Jarvis stressed that it was important for cervical cytology services to continue despite the introduction of the vaccine, which only offers protection against HPV strains 16 and 18.

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