HPV jabs ‘unlikely' for September

A decision over mass vaccination of secondary school girls against human papilloma virus (HPV) is unlikely to be made in time to include this September's new intake, say experts.

Professor Margaret Stanley, a virologist at Cambridge University and advisor on HPV to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said introduction of the cervical cancer jab might be announced by prime minister Tony Blair’s successor.

There will be political gain from a policy to protect the health of the nation’s young women, she said.

The first vaccine against HPV, Gardasil, was granted a licence by the European Medicines Agency in September, permitting its use in children aged 9–15 and women aged 16–26.

But the JCVI has yet to give its decision on whether or not the cervical cancer jab will be made available on the NHS in a meeting held around the same time last year, the HPV subcommittee said it could not make a recommendation to the JCVI until it had cost-effectiveness data.

‘Pharma company models have shown that the cost is acceptable, but the JCVI needs independent cost-effective data,’ said Professor Stanley. ‘The cost looks acceptable and the real decision will be made over affordability by the Treasury.’

Minutes from the latest HPV subcommittee meeting in February are still to be made public.

Professor Stanley said: ‘New information will be referred to in the next round of minutes from the HPV sub-group.’
But she would not comment on whether or not this was cost-effective data.

The next meeting of the JCVI on this issue is scheduled for June.

Dr George Kassianos, Berkshire GP and RCGP spokesman on immunisation, said: ‘The JCVI is being too slow. ‘There are ways of not making decisions such as calling for cost-effective data. GPs need advice soon.’

RCGP spokeswoman on women’s health Dr Sarah Jarvis said unless the JCVI ‘gets its act together’, the likelihood of vaccination of 12-year-old girls this September is unlikely.

Professor Stanley spoke before the First Global Summit on Cervical Cancer in Paris, France, last week, funded at least in part by drug company Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which markets the vaccine.

Critics told The Guardian this week there was concern about the promotion of a vaccine only effective in young girls, possibly at the expense of screening programmes essential to adults.

There are fears the long-term  vaccine effects are not known.

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