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Thursday, November 25, 2010

AUSTRALIAN COURIER MAIL : Schoolboys to be offered cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil to stamp out human papilloma virus

EVERY secondary school boy could soon be offered a free jab to vaccinate them against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer.

The makers of the Brisbane-developed cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil have asked the Federal Government to extend the highly successful mass immunisation scheme to boys.

Since 2007, millions of young Queensland women have received the vaccine, invented by former Australian of the Year Professor Ian Frazer.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration last week approved Gardasil for use on males up to the age of 26.

It is the first step towards a government-funded vaccine rollout for 12 and 13-year-old boys.

The vaccine maker, CSL, has filed an application for the vaccine to be funded for adolescent boys under the National Immunisation Program as a "universal gender neutral program".

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Gardasil guards against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease, responsible for 70 per cent of all cervical cancer as well as some cancers in men.

Prof Frazer has argued for the free vaccination to be extended to young men as part of a wider strategy to prevent cancer.

"One of the major issues is the prevention of 10 per cent of HPV-associated cancers (including cancers of the mouth and throat) in men. Boys are entitled to be protected like girls," he said.

Prof Frazer and other health experts believe the more people vaccinated against HPV, the greater chance of achieving "herd immunity" - where a high percentage of the population is immune to a disease, essentially stopping it in its tracks because it cannot find a new host.

CSL said the approval for Gardasil in young men was based on a trial in more than 4000 males aged 16-26 years, where the vaccine was demonstrated to be 90.4 per cent effective.

The company has put forward a case that it would be worthwhile on a cost-benefit basis to immunise boys as well as girls.

The application to include the vaccine in the National Immunisation Program will be considered at the March meeting of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

Cancer Council HPV expert Dr Karen Canfell said boys would receive "incremental benefits" from vaccination.

"It is a complex issue," she said.

"There will be better protection if males are vaccinated but we have to put this in perspective of the benefit boys and men are getting from the current vaccination program because Australia has one of the most comprehensive programs in females.

"Our own research has shown that rates of infection of HPV in females has already halved since the vaccination program started and is going to keep declining and the fact that new infections are halving in women is already going to have that beneficial effect on men."

Every year it is estimated there are 44,000 new cases of genital warts, caused by HPV, with an annual cost of managing the disease at more than $14 million.

Rates of new genital wart infection in Australia have plummeted, research shows, in an early positive sign of the success of mass Gardasil vaccinations.

A study taking in patient data from sexual health clinics across the country has shown up to a 60 per cent fall in new genital wart cases since 2007, when the anti-cancer vaccine was first used.

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