While not endorsing a mandatory programme, the BMA said any effort to encourage vaccination was ‘a good thing’.
‘If the government rolled out a national HPV vaccination programme we would strongly urge parents to make sure their children are immunised as this could save lives and prevent disease in the future,’ it said in a statement.
Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, agreed that parents should have the final say. ‘We know HPV vaccines have the potential to prevent the majority of cervical cancer cases,’ he said.
‘But the final decision of whether to vaccinate children will have to be made by parents. Information about an HPV vaccine would need to be made available to help all people make the most informed choice.’
The Lancet editorial comes just weeks after the first vaccine against HPV, Gardasil, received a European licence for children aged 9–15 and for women up to the age of 26. The vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 70 per cent of all cervical cancers, and types 6 and 11, which cause about 90 per cent of cases of genital warts.
The editorial urges Europe to follow the lead from the US state of Michigan, which passed a bill last month ruling that all girls aged 11 and 12 years should be immunised.
‘This is a decision to which the EU member states should pay heed,’ said the Lancet.
There is evidence that parents may resist any programme. DoH research has shown that most parents have not heard of the role of HPV in cervical cancer and that they had concerns about offering a vaccine against an STI before children had reached sexually maturity.
A DoH spokesman said a subgroup of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation had met in May 2006 to review HPV vaccines. He could not say when a final decision would be taken.