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US Panel Recommends Cancer Vaccine for Young Girls

A panel of U.S. government health experts recommended Thursday that a new vaccine should routinely be given to young girls to protect them against cervical cancer later in life. The series of three shots prevents infection from a common sexually transmitted virus.

The government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has voted unanimously to recommend that 11- and 12-year-old girls should be vaccinated with Gardasil, which protects against human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The vaccine is said to be the first vaccine specifically designed to prevent cancer.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the vaccine is highly effective against cervical cancer, which is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. "This is a cancer prevention vaccine. It also turns out to prevent the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. And this is a great opportunity for us to make advances in prevention," she said.

Dr. Schuchat said the United States is the first country to recommend that young girls receive the vaccine. She said the advisory panel considered many factors in making its decision. "They consider efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness, as well, and on all three fronts, this vaccine looks good," he said.

As well as being recommended for 11-and 12-year-olds, Dr. Schuchat said the vaccine could be offered to girls as young as age nine, and to women between 13 and 26. She cautioned that the shots should not replace other prevention methods, such as cervical cancer screning or pap tests.

While the committee's recommendation is not official until final approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that decision is expected in several months.