By Sarah Kendzior
With a million cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the U.S. every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are starting to split on whether booster shots are a good idea for routine cancer screening.
When it comes to HPV vaccine, the answer is clearly yes.
Regardless of how women decide to vaccinate themselves against HPV, with one dose of the vaccine, the results are clear: A significant proportion of those who receive HPV vaccines will have their first dose protected from at least four strains of HPV, the virus that causes most cervical cancers.
So far, we’ve known how to prevent HPV vaccine, but only just. We know now how to prevent cervical cancer — with a dose of a very specific vaccine.
Maternal and child health scientists at the WHO had recommended cervical cancer prevention through vaccines against HPV from 2011, but then the FDA and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force started to question the role of HPV vaccine in curbing cervical cancer, undermining the efforts of vaccine makers.
More than four million doses of the HPV vaccine have been distributed globally.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2012 stopped recommending that girls and women start getting the HPV vaccine before the age of 13. In 2017, the CDC added that it was no longer recommending the vaccine for girls ages 9-26.
The FDA is starting to weigh in too, partially reversing its policy. It just added a new recommendation that men and women ages 29-60 get HPV vaccine. In July 2017, the FDA told the FDAFDAUVA Foundation that it will no longer push for mandatory HPV booster shots in the U.S. The FDA’s responsibility is to protect the public against certain diseases, not a right.
The USA Swine Vaccine Coalition and Breakthrough Breast Cancer are asking the FDA to expand its policy to include women over the age of 25. In the United States, women and young girls get the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. Now, men are also recommended to get vaccinated to reduce their risk of developing sexual transmitted infections (STIs) that can also lead to cervical cancer. The U.S. should follow the WHO’s lead in protecting all men and women against HPV-related cancer.
In 2007, when the HPV vaccine was first recommended for girls and women, many people — including women and girls themselves — dismissed the vaccine. People feared they would be treated differently and be perceived as “risky” by others. This fear has been replaced with an acceptance that’s come with the fact that cervical cancer is preventable with this vaccine.
The World Health Organization and many global experts agree. WHO has recommended the HPV vaccine for girls and women since 2007, while the FDA and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have not. But WHO is only a scientific organization, while the FDA is not. The FDA has no inherent right to decide about the effectiveness of a vaccine, only whether it is safe and effective.
Neither has Congress, and it is time for Congress to step in. Take action today. Tell the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to rethink their position and provide full oversight and funding for a vaccine that has been proven to be effective and safe.
Dr. Sarah Kendzior is the health policy director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Follow her @sarahkendzior.
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