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Vaccine to prevent cervical cancer reports remarkable success over a few short years

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There's some good medical news to report. A vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in 2006 has reduced infections with the human papillomavirus or HPV, which is the sexually transmitted virus that causes the disease by more than half among girls and young women. U.S. health officials say the results were better than expected and may even suggest that unvaccinated individuals are benefiting due to a drop in the number of infections circulating, a medical team reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "This report shows that HPV works well, and the report should be a wake-up call to our nation to protect the next generation by increasing HPV vaccination rates," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

Only a third of U.S. girls, 13 to 17 years of age have been fully vaccinated with HPV vaccines, which include Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix. This is in contrast to far higher vaccination rates in other countries such as Rwanda, where more than 80 percent of teenage girls have been vaccinated.

"Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies - 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we reach 80 percent vaccination rates," Frieden says.

A study led by the Center for Disease Control's Dr. Lauri Markowitz used data from a large health survey to compare rates of infection with certain strains of the HPV virus among girls and women aged 14 to 19 years of age in the four-year period before the introduction of the vaccine (2003-2006) and after its introduction (2007-2010). The study largely reflects the impact of Merck's Gardasil, the first vaccine to win U.S. approval in 2006.

Gardasil protects against four HPV strains known to cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Glaxo's Cervarix won U.S. approval in 2009 and protects against two of the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV.

The vaccine was found to have worked even better than expected, reducing by 56 percent the number of infections caused by strains of HPV covered by the vaccine among women and girls aged 14 to 19.

The higher than expected response rate could be the result of so-called "herd immunity," Markowitz says. This is where the vaccine is also reducing infections among those who are not vaccinated. It could also mean that the vaccine was working even among women who had not received the full three doses, which included about 49 percent of women in the study.

The CDC recommends routine HPV vaccination for boys and girls at age 11-12. But only about half of all U.S. girls have gotten at least one of the three recommended shots and far fewer boys have gotten the first dose of the vaccine.

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