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Please direct any enquiries to the South East Coast (SEC) Strategic Clinical Network for Cancer (Tel: 01293 729 154 and 01293 729 163).

Cervical cancer (HPV) vaccination programme

From autumn 2008, Cervarix® vaccine will be offered every year to 12- to 13-year-old girls (school year 8). A three-year catch-up programme will also start from autumn 2008 and will offer the vaccine to older girls aged 13-18.

Where vaccination will take place is a decision made by PCTs, but most are expected to deliver the vaccine in schools for younger girls and GP surgeries for older girls.

Following vaccination, high levels of protection against HPV strains 16 and 18 (which cause over 70% of cervical cancers) have been shown for at least six years in follow-up studies, and these studies will be continued for many years. Longer lasting protection is expected as antibody levels in vaccinated women have remained very high, well above the levels seen from natural infection in fact.

Vaccination is not compulsory – consent will be needed before the vaccination. For 12- to 13-year-olds it is most likely that a consent form signed by the parent or guardian will need to be supplied before the vaccine is given. Girls aged 16 and over are legally able to consent for themselves.

Three doses of the vaccine are needed over about a 6 month period – the second will be given 1-2 months after the first injection, and the third is given about 6 months after the first injection.

There will be no immediate impact on the cervical screening programme as the vaccine protects against 70% of cancer-causing HPV types – but not all of them, so screening will still be important as well. It will be some years before the first girls to be vaccinated will be eligible for routine cervical screening (from the age of 25 in England). Screening will also still need to be offered to women up to the age of 64 who will not have been vaccinated.

Further information is available via the HPV helpline, on 0845 602 3303 or by visiting the NHS Choices website.