Cervical cancer is a major health issue. Many national governments embarked on a vaccination program for teenage girls in the mid-2000s. To slow down the spread, the Australian government is considering extending the vaccinations to teenage boys.
Many sexually active women acquire a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). Certain strains of this virus can cause cancer, including cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). Others can cause genital warts. In the majority of cases the virus disappears from the woman's body without any treatment and therefore does no harm. The US Centers for Disease Control regards HPV to be the most common sexually transmitted infection or STI.
Since 2006, many governments began mass immunisation programs aimed at young female teenagers. This is using vaccines such as Cervarix or Gardasil. According to the UK NetDoctor site, it is an increasingly common form of cancer affecting hundreds of thousands per year. As ABC News indicates, the Australian government began providing the jab to teenage girls in 2007 (which was year after the USA and two years before the UK).
In Australia, the drive by the government to protect young women from cervical cancer has led to a new policy being developed. As reported by The Australian, the immunisation program may extended to teenage boys. This follows the federal government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommending that young men are also vaccinated, with the target being teenage boys at school aged between 12-and 13-years. Although teenage boys cannot contract the cancer, being vaccinated means that they cannot carry or transmit the virus.
The drug selected by the Australian government is Gardasi, which is manufactured by the US drug giant Merck.
The objective of the Melbourne based government's decision is to attempt to slow-down the sexual transmission of the virus. However, the Herald Sun indicates that there are some issues to resolve first in terms of the cost and pricing of the vaccine and discussion needs to be held with pharmaceutical companies concerning supply. With these issues to resolve, the program is unlikely to get underway until 2013. In relation to the cost issue, this is something for the government to weight up against the projected effectiveness of reducing the cervical cancer rate. The Sydney Morning Herald states that the initial cost of administering Gardasil to the target population of school girls was about $450 million over four years
It will be interesting if other countries follow suit. The Daily Telegraph recently ran a debate focused on the issue in light of the vaccine being made available to boys through the UK National Health Service.