Wales speeds up HPV vaccination catch-up campaign
The Welsh Assembly Government has announced that the catch-up campaign for human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is to be accelerated so that even more girls and young women can be protected against cervical cancer.
Wales introduced its routine vaccination programme last Autumn, with some 20,000 12 to 13-year-old girls receiving the HPV vaccine Cervarix.
Nearly 90 per cent of girls in this age group have had their first vaccination, with around 75 per cent also receiving their second dose.
The Welsh Assembly Government had previously announced a two-year catch-up campaign and health minister Edwina Hart has now confirmed that this will be accelerated thanks to a £9 million investment.
This means that all girls and young women in Wales who were born between September 1st 1991 and August 31st 1995 will be offered the HPV vaccine during the 2009/10 school year, ensuring that an additional 40,000 females will be given the opportunity to have the vaccine.
"I am delighted with the success of the new routine vaccination programme and thank all those involved including the girls themselves, their parents and health professionals for helping us reduce the risk of these girls developing cervical cancer later in life," said Ms Hart.
"HPV vaccination is a very significant public health development and I would like Wales to press ahead by undertaking the catch-up campaign more quickly than planned.
"I recognise that additional efforts will be needed but am confident that local health professionals will rise to the challenge."
Ms Hart noted that the HPV vaccine does not provide complete protection against all HPV infections - it protects against the strains responsible for around 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer.
The minister emphasised that women should therefore still go for smear tests when invited.
The catch-up programme is being promoted via an advertising campaign which will run from September 2009.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's head of policy, commented: "This plan to accelerate the vaccination of girls and young women against cervical cancer in Wales is welcome news indeed.
"The HPV vaccine is an exciting new development in our fight against cervical cancer and should prevent 70 per cent of cases of the disease in the future.
"But it's important to remember that it won't prevent all instances of the disease. Cervical screening remains essential in preventing cancer and we urge all women to take up the invitation when they receive it."