B.C. health minister George Abbott announced Monday (May 5) that girls entering Grades 6 and 9 will be offered the controversial human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil. The vaccine prevents infection of HPV types 16 and 18, which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
Despite a glowing endorsement from BC Cancer Agency vice-president Dr. Andy Coldman, who called the move “an important step forward” that “complements our current efforts in the fight against cervical cancer” in the government’s press release, Gardasil has not been uniformly embraced by the medical community.
In August 2007, a commentary expressing concerns about Gardasil appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, written by Dr. Abby Lippman of McGill University’s Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health; Dr. Ryan Melnychuk of Dalhousie University’s Department of Bioethics; Carolyn Shimmin, information centre coordinator of the Canadian Women’s Health Network; and Madeline Boscoe, executive director of the Canadian Women’s Health Network and policy and advocacy coordinator for the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg.
In their commentary, they noted that information about the efficacy of Gardasil remains uncertain, that relatively few girls (about 1,200 aged nine to 15) were enrolled in the vaccine’s clinical trials, and that, at a cost of $404 for three required doses, the vaccine is one of the most expensive proposed for mass use.
In the government’s press release, Dr. Monika Naus, head of the immunization program at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, stressed that because the vaccine does not prevent all cancer-causing strains of HPV, regular Pap tests will still be necessary.
According to the BC Cancer Agency, in 2007 approximately 144 women in B.C. were expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 45 would die from the disease.