Date Published: 7 February 2007

WHO comments on vaccinating against cervical cancer

Since last year, it has become possible to vaccinate against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes most cases of cervical cancer, but countries face tough decisions before making the vaccine widely available.

The excitement surrounding the HPV vaccine is not surprising given that half a million women a year develop cervical cancer and half of those die as a result.

But the HPV vaccine is no magic bullet: it has the potential to substantially reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer, but not to eradicate it. Now that an HPV vaccine is already on the market, while a second is expected to receive regulatory approval soon, health professionals and health-care policymakers face tough decisions.

Questions such as ‘who should get the vaccine and at what age?’, ‘how to include HPV vaccination in a comprehensive cervical cancer control programme?’ and ‘which sustainable funding mechanisms should be in place?’ are just the start.

Such decisions may be easier for developed countries which have data on HPV and cervical cancer prevalence, existing vaccination programmes and ample clinical trial data on the HPV vaccine itself, while developing countries may not have a complete set of epidemiological data or a mechanism to deliver the vaccine.

But even for developed countries, cost is a major barrier to making the vaccine widely available.

In June 2006, Merck’s Gardasil received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and, shortly afterwards, was provisionally recommended by the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for girls and women aged nine to 26.

As of the end of 2006, the vaccine had been approved in 49 countries worldwide, with more expected to join the list this year. The quadrivalent vaccine gives 100% protection against infection from HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for around 70% of all cervical cancers. It also protects against HPV types 6 and 11 that cause genital warts. GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals applied to the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products for international regulatory approval in March 2006 to market its bivalent vaccine Cervarix for HPV types 16 and 18.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been developing information that countries can use to formulate their policies on HPV vaccination.

Vaccines have been tested in North America, Latin America, Europe, to some extent in Asia, but not in Africa yet,” said Dr Teresa Aguado, WHO’s coordinator for the Initiative for Vaccine Research, Product Research and Development team.


... For more information see the World Health Organization (WHO) website.


Source: World Health Organization (WHO).

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