Girls Of 12 To Have Cervical Cancer Jab

A programme to vaccinate pre-teenage girls against cervical cancer is expected to move a significant step closer today, despite concern that it could be seen as condoning under-age sex.

A committee of experts is likely to recommend that all girls of 12 should have jabs against human papilloma virus (HPV) – the cause of most cervical cancer.

While senior doctors warn that hundreds of women will die of cervical cancer because government advisers have delayed a decision to introduce the vaccination programme, some ethical and religious groups oppose the scheme and believe girls should be taught to abstain from sex.

They say that a vaccination programme for 12-year-olds undermines that message.

Colin Hart, the director of the Christian Institute charity, said: “It’s basically a sex jab, encouraging the view that girls can be sexually available. It is a disease that you can only get through being sexually promiscuous. The thing we should be doing is trying to stop kids being sexually active.”

Many experts and charities disagree with criticism of the jab, pointing to research that suggests a vaccine could prevent more than 700 deaths a year.

Cancer specialists yesterday criticised the committee of advisers for taking a year to reach their decision, and said 300,000 girls would face a greater risk of developing cervical cancer as a result.

Karol Sikora, professor of Cancer Medicine at Imperial College, London, said: “They have been looking at this for a year. It’s too long.

“The longer you delay, the more people will die. The issue is coloured by the association of HPV, cervical cancer and sexual activity. The argument that vaccination will encourage promiscuity is spurious.”

However, Dr Helen Watt, the director of the Catholic Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, said: “A massive public health programme which targets girls as young as 10 or 12 may well create more problems than it solves . . . sending out the message that promiscuity is normal and expected.”

Minutes from a September meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) HPV sub group said a decision was expected in “early 2007”. The Health Department refused to say how long it would take ministers to decide whether to take up its recommendations.

Doctors and health visitors will give jabs to girls in their first year of secondary school and there is expected to be a “catch-up” programme for those of 13 to 16.

Gardasil and Cervarix have been developed to protect against strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

Gardasil, which was licensed last year, is being given to some teenagers under private treatment or a handful of GPs prescribing it on the NHS.

A DoH spokesman said: “The Government is not dragging its heels. We do not set the timetable on JCVI decisions.”