Swedish girls to be vaccinated against cervical cancer

The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) wants to add a vaccine preventing the human papillomavirus (HPV) to Sweden’s general pediatric vaccination program in order to reduce future cases of cervical cancer.

The Board’s proposal, which is now out for consultation, suggests vaccinating girls in grades five and six (ages 12 and 13).

An exact timetable on when the vaccination program would begin won’t be known until April 9th at the earliest, when responses for the consultation process are due.

Following the Board’s pronouncement, the Stockholm County Council decided to move forward with its own vaccination program immediately.

“It was important for us to hear the Board’s opinion that the vaccination is an effective prevention measure, because it hadn’t provided clear guidance on the advantages,” said County Council advisor Birgitta Rydberg in a statement.

A recently released report by the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU) finds the new vaccines against HPV, Gardasil and Cervarix, very promising and likely able to prevent many cases of cervical cancer.

The report points out however, that significant uncertainty remains about the effects of vaccinating the general public.

Unrealistic expectations about the vaccination’s protection could result in more women having unprotected sex, or fewer women going in for regular testing for cervical cancer.

SBU sees such a development as disconcerting, since testing is when changes in cells can be detected in time to prevent full blown cervical cancer.

SBU’s report is also frank about the difficulty in judging whether the 200 million kronor ($32 million) price tag would be justified.

Many other countries are considering implementing HPV-vaccination programs, and some have already begun. In the United States, girls aged 11 and 12 are vaccinated, followed by a second dose after two months and a third after six months.

In Australia 12 and 13-year-old girls are vaccinated. Austria vaccinates both boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 15, as well as women ages 16 to 16, while Italy has decided to vaccinate girls when they turn 12 starting this year.

In France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany it is possible to have the costs of the vaccination covered by insurance.