June 8, 2006 — Women for the first time have a vaccine to protect themselves against cervical cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved use of the vaccine, Gardasil, for use in girls and women ages nine to 26. It works by preventing infection by four strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease.
Clinical trials showed Gardasil prevented 100 percent of cervical cancer related to the two HPV strains in women who had not been previously infected, Merck representatives said. It also prevented 99 percent of the cases of genital warts caused by the two other strains.
The target age for receiving Gardasil is low because the vaccine works best when given to girls before they begin having sex and run the risk of HPV infection. The vaccine may not protect people already infected and may increase their risk of the kind of lesions that can lead to cervical cancer, the FDA has said.
The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide June 29 whether to endorse routine vaccination with Gardasil. That endorsement is critical if a vaccine is to become a standard of care.
It then will be up to individual states to decide whether to add the vaccine to the list of others required before students may attend public schools.