All girls ages 11–12 should routinely receive the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on June 29. The panel of experts also said that two other groups of girls and women should receive the vaccine: those aged 13–26 who have not been vaccinated, and women who have had abnormal pap smears, genital warts or certain other conditions. Physicians can administer the vaccine to children as young as nine at their own discretion. ACIP’s recommendation will guide immunization practices and policies at the federal, state and local levels in the United States.
On June 8, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gardasil as safe and effective for use among girls and women ages 9–26. The vaccine, developed by Merck & Company, prevents infection with the types of human papillomavirus (HPV) responsible for most cases of cervical cancer and virtually all cases of genital warts.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide, causing at least 250,000 deaths each year, including 3,700 in the United States. The vast majority of these deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, where early detection (notably the Pap test) is rare. The vaccine promises huge benefits to women in developing countries, but reaching adolescents with the required three injections over a six-month period before they become sexually active will pose considerable logistical and financial challenges.