Girls are to get a ‘better’ jab against sexual diseases after a U-turn by health chiefs. Cervarix, a vaccine that protects cervical cancer, will be replaced by Gardasil which also prevents up to 90 per cent of genital warts. Campaigners have argued that the wrong vaccine is being used in the routine immunisation programme for young girls, which is estimated to prevent 400 deaths a year.
The Government was accused of ‘penny-pinching’ by picking Cervarix because it was cheaper than rival Gardasil, but fails to protect against genital warts. Surveys suggested doctors were choosing Gardasil for private vaccination of their own daughters. Cervarix is currently offered to girls aged 12 and 13 years to protect against strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cases of cancer of the cervix, the neck of the womb.
It was chosen by the Labour government for the first four-year phase of the NHS programme in 2008 because it offered ‘best overall value’ and more than five million doses have been given. The vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, beat off its rival Gardasil, made by Sanofi Pasteur MSD, for the lucrative contract worth at least £100 million, while a two-year catch-up programme for older girls was expected to cost a further £20 million. Both vaccines are 70 per cent effective against HPV strains 16 and 18, but Gardasil also protects against two other strains responsible for 90 per cent of genital warts.