A GOVERNMENT PANEL unanimously recommended yesterday that 11- and 12-year-old girls be vaccinated against a common sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer, but abstinence proponents said they’d fight efforts to make the shot mandatory. The recommendation is likely to be followed by pediatricians and used to endorse insurance coverage for the $360 three-shot series. Girls age 9 or older should also be able to get the shots for free through a federal vaccine program for disadvantaged children, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended. “This is a cancer-prevention vaccine and prevents the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country. It’s a tremendous opportunity for prevention,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The panel’s recommendations call for preteen girls to get the shot during routine checkups – before they are likely to become sexually active and exposed to the human papilloma virus, which causes 70% of cervical cancers. But girls as young as 9 and women up to age 26 can get “catchup” immunizations to protect themselves, according to the guidelines, which still need final approval from top federal officials. The vaccine, called Gardasil, won’t help those who have already been exposed to the most common cancer-causing forms of HPV. But “the majority of women in this group have not yet been infected, so you’re going to see recommendations to vaccinate those women, regardless of whether they’ve been sexually active,” said Dr. Rick Haupt, executive director of medical affairs for Gardasil’s manufacturer, Merck. Conservatives said the panel’s recommendation put “strong pressure” on states to mandate the vaccinations. “If that happens, state officials, not parents, would become the primary sexual-health decision makers for America’s children. That’s the way things are done in dictatorships, not democracies,” said Linda Klepacki of Focus on the Family. In studies, Gardasil blocked the two main cancer-causing strains of HPV 100% of the time. It also was effective in preventing two additional forms of HPV responsible for most cases of genital warts. [email protected]
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