Q and A: The risks, the uptake and the lives saved in fight to beat killer disease
Q WHAT is the cervical cancer vaccine and how does it work?
A: The two vaccines which have been developed – Ceravix and Gardasil – both target the sexually-transmitted disease, human papillomavirus (HPV) which is believed to be responsible for 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases. Both make girls immune to strains of the virus. Both have a similar safety record.
Q: How many girls have suffered adverse reactions to Ceravix?
A: There have been 4,657 suspected reactions to Cervarix from more than 1.4 million doses, according to experts. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency has said it received 2,137 reports between 14 April 2008 and 23 September this year.
Experts say a small number of severe allergic reactions are inevitable, and do not indicate the vaccine is unsafe. In the UK, the risk of severe, life-threatening reactions after immunisation has been estimated at about one per million vaccine doses.
A minority of people develop minor side-effects, such as sore arms, swelling at the site of injection and dizziness.
Q: Was there discussion before Ceravix was chosen for the immunisation programme?
A: In the UK, Cervarix is the vaccine of choice. It protects against the two strains of HPV (16 and 18) that cause cervical cancer in over 70 per cent of women.
Its choice was controversial with some experts saying Gardasil would have been a more logical option. Gadasil targets four strains of HPV– strains 16 and 18 which are responsible for cervical cancer and strains 6 and 11 which cause the less serious condition of genital warts.
Ceravix was extensively tested before it was introduced and is reported to have a good safety record to date. Gardasil is used by the majority of vaccination programmes worldwide which are already up and running.
Q: How many lives will be saved?
A: The vaccine could prevent 70 per cent of the 1,120 deaths that cervical cancer claims in the UK annually.
However, it will take time for the benefits to be seen. Cervical cancer is thought of as a younger person's disease, but it often strikes women in middle age and later. Therefore it could be decades before a dramatic decline in the death rate is seen.
Q. How many girls have received this jab?
A: More than a million girls in Scotland, Wales and England aged 12 and 13 have received the jab since the immunisation programme was launched last autumn. Millions more have received it worldwide.
A two-year "catch-up" campaign is currently being rolled out for girls up to the age of 18.
Q: What is the actual percentage take-up rate for the vaccine?
A: Figures released last week showed that 90 per cent of schoolgirls eligible for the jab had come forward for the jab.
Q: How is the jab given?
A: There are a course of three injections over six months.
Q. Why not leave the jab until the girls are adults and can assess all the information for themselves?
A: The vaccines are most effective when administered to girls before they become sexually active – so before they potentially come into contact with HPV.
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