The U.S. government has approved the first vaccine that could prevent a type of cancer in women. The drug could have a huge impact on women in the United States and abroad.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer, potentially saving the lives of thousands of women each year.
U.S. health official Dr. Alex Azar says, "Today's approval is a major step forward for public health protection in the United States."
The vaccine, known as Gardasil, targets the sexually transmitted disease Human Papillomavirus or HPV - the cause of most cervical cancers and genital warts.
After clinical trials involving 21,000 women, Gardasil was found to be nearly 100 percent effective.
Manufactured by the Merck pharmaceutical company, the drug is only effective when given prior to infection.
The director of infectious diseases at the Gates Foundation, Dr. Regina Rabinovich, has been working to make Gardasil available in developing countries. She says there must be no confusion about what the vaccine can do.
"There has to be effective communication about what it will prevent and what it will not prevent. It will not prevent HIV -- this is not an HIV vaccine. But they sound pretty similar to the lay person -- HIV, HPV. But they are very different. One is preventing cancer."
The approval comes at a critical time -- when worldwide cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women, killing more than 230,000 a year. Merck says it is working to accelerate the availability of Gardasil in the developing world. In the United States, the vaccine will be in doctor's offices this month. Merck says it expects a high demand.