Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 17:15 UK

Row over cervical vaccine choice

Human papillomavirus
Human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer

A new vaccination programme to protect schoolgirls from cervical cancer later in life will be using the wrong vaccine, say campaigners.

Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, will offer immunity to the strains of a virus which cause 70% of cases.

However, some experts say the Department of Health should have chosen a rival version, which also protects against genital warts.

The government insists Cervarix came out on top after rigorous assessment.

It seems that the UK is fated to be not just the poor man of Europe but also the warty one
Spokesman
Terrence Higgins Trust

The vaccine will be given to 12 and 13-year-olds from September, and protects against two strains of human papillomavirus.

Health minister Dawn Primarolo described it as an "exciting opportunity" which could eventually save 400 lives a year.

However, some health charities, while welcoming the introduction of a cervical cancer vaccine, said that Cervarix represented a missed opportunity.

The other type of vaccine, Gardasil, used by the majority of vaccination programmes worldwide, also protects against two other strains, which can cause genital warts.

The Terrence Higgins Trust said it was disappointed at the "short-sightedness" of the decision, and accused the government of a false economy.

"It seems that the UK is fated to be not just the poor man of Europe but also the warty one."

A spokesman for the Family Planning Association added: "Genital warts is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia.

The vaccination programme has always been about cervical cancer protection, irrespective of which vaccine was chosen. We chose the vaccine that best met this need
Department of Health

"Selecting the Gardasil vaccine would've been a huge preventative measure in terms of health and financial costs to the NHS."

Sexual health charity Brook echoed this, describing the rejection of Gardasil as "a shame".

However, the Department of Health were quick to reject the suggestion that it had made the wrong choice.

A spokesman said: "The contract has been awarded for the vaccine that scored best overall against a number of pre-agreed criteria and offers best overall value to the NHS.

"The vaccination programme has always been about cervical cancer protection, irrespective of which vaccine was chosen.

"We chose the vaccine that best met this need."

The criteria, said the Department of Health, included cost-effectiveness and effectiveness.

Share rise

GlaxoSmithKline described the announcement as "great news for girls and women across the UK". The company's share price was 2% up at one point today.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, the makers of Gardasil, said it regretted that the UK would not benefit from its "unmatched" protection.

The vaccination programme will cost an extra 9 million a year, and will also include a "catch-up" campaign for teenage girls up to the age of 18 starting in September 2009.

Cervarix, which is licenced for use in more than 60 countries worldwide, is given in three doses over a six month period.

At the moment, approximately 200,000 women each year have pre-cancerous cells on their cervix detected by the NHS Screening Programme, and it is hoped, after a few decades, this will fall as the effects of the vaccine are felt.

Smear testing will continue - as most women will not enjoy the protection of the vaccine, and cancers can still emerge even in vaccinated women.




SEE ALSO
Many parents 'block cancer jab'
25 Apr 08 |  Health
Schoolgirls to get 'cancer jab'
26 Oct 07 |  Health

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