Page last updated at 01:11 GMT, Friday, 6 October 2006 02:11 UK

Cancer jab plea for girls aged 11

All schoolgirls should be routinely vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer, a leading medical journal has said.

The Lancet editorial calls for mandatory vaccination against human papillomavirus for girls in all EU member states once they are 11 or 12.

But some parents fear a vaccine against a virus which effectively is sexually transmitted could promote underage sex.

The Lancet points out the US state of Michigan is vaccinating girls aged 11.

Last week, the European Commission licensed the first HPV vaccine, Gardasil, for use in nine to 26-year-olds.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said introduction of HPV vaccination was currently under investigation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Gardasil, made by Merck and Sanofi Pasteur, offers protection against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers and types 6 and 11, which cause about 90% of cases of genital warts.

"Information about a HPV vaccine would need to be made available alongside any vaccination programme to help all people make the most informed choice as possible"
Professor John Toy

The Lancet editorial says that ideally boys should also be immunised against the virus. But it says that, until more data on use of the vaccine in boys is available, EU states "should lead by making the vaccinations mandatory for all girls aged 11 to 12 years".

Sexually transmitted infection

Around 80% of sexually active women can expect to have an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

And cervical cancer kills 274,000 women worldwide every year, including 1,120 in the UK.

UK-based GlaxoSmithKline also has a HPV vaccine, called Cervarix, in development but which is still a year off the European approval stage.

Trials of Cervarix suggested that vaccinating all 12-year-old girls against HPV could cut deaths from the disease by 75%.

But the vaccines have caused controversy over plans to give it to girls as young as nine, before they become sexually active.

A study in Manchester of parents attitudes to HPV vaccine and research by the Department of Health had shown that most parents have not heard of HPV and were not aware of the role of HPV in cervical cancer. Parents had concerns about offering a vaccine that protects against a sexually transmitted infection to children at a young age and the sexual health issues that could arise.

Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK medical director, said: "We know HPV vaccines have the potential to prevent the majority of cervical cancer cases in the UK.

"The decision to introduce a national immunisation programme is currently being considered by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but ultimately, the final decision of whether to vaccinate children will have to be made by parents.

"Information about a HPV vaccine would need to be made available alongside any vaccination programme to help all people make the most informed choice possible."

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