Girls may get mass anti-cancer jabs

NZ Herald April 14, 2008
The Government is said to be on the point of announcing a programme of mass-vaccination of 11-year-old girls against a sexually-transmitted virus linked to cervical cancers. “It is expected, in the very near future, that a universal programme for 11-year-old girls will be announced,” says vaccine expert Dr Nikki Turner in a report for Auckland University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre, of which she is director. “The 11-year-old event is likely to be delivered by general practice and public health services within schools.” Dr Turner is close to the Ministry of Health – her centre is contracted to it and she sits on the ministry’s pandemic influenza committee – but she is not a ministry employee. “We’re just waiting to hear [about the vaccine],” she told the Herald.

Each year, cervical cancer is diagnosed in about 180 women and kills around 60… The ministry is negotiating with GlaxoSmithKline and CSL, which each supply a vaccine that targets strains of HPV associated with 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

…It has previously recommended vaccinating girls from the age of 11 or 13, with a catch-up for older girls up to 15, but the starting age was to be based on “acceptability” and a survey of parental attitudes was planned. The vaccine is expected to confer the greatest protection if it is given before girls become sexually active as there is a high risk of HPV infection in the first years after starting to have sex. Dr Turner said parental concerns had been expressed that giving the vaccine to adolescents might promote promiscuity or earlier sexual activity but there was no evidence for this. “There is some evidence that education interventions can improve the level of acceptability in undecided parents. A UK study … reported that 81 per cent of parents would probably, or definitely, have their child vaccinated.”