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Division over merits of HPV vaccine campaign

A row has broken out among leading researchers over whether a GP-led catch-up and booster HPV vaccination campaign will be needed.

It follows research, exclusively reported by Pulse, that found levels of HPV antibodies – and by implication immunity – fell with age in vaccinated women.

Dr Anne Szarewski, clinical consultant and honorary senior lecturer at the Wolfson institute of preventive medicine, said the evidence meant it was ‘obvious' a catch-up and booster campaign would be needed for older women in the future.

‘The screening programme will and must continue, but there will be women who think they are protected but are not, and that's an extra reason for a catch-up campaign.'

But Dr Angela Raffle, a consultant in public health for Bristol PCT, said efforts should be concentrated on the proven cervical screening programme.

‘I think this discussion about a catch-up is a reflection of the fact that we have rushed into this decision too quickly.

‘The UK has a good screening programme; we should spend the money on a good publicity campaign to remind women how important it is they attend screening, not just throw money at more vaccines and muddle through.'

The research on antibody decline prompted several JCVI members to question the implications of the findings for a possible future catch-up campaign for older girls and women.

The HPV subcommittee has also announced it will monitor immunological data to see if a booster campaign is necessary.

Meanwhile the frequency with which women need to be screened was also called into question this week, by research published in The Lancet. It showed using HPV DNA testing detects the lesions that lead to cervical cancer earlier than cytological testing.

Professor Chris Meijer, from the VU university medical centre in Amsterdam, said: ‘On the basis of this data, we suggest that the current screening interval of five years could be extended by at least one year.'

After five years, fewer lesions were detected in the women screened using HPV DNA testing (24/8,413) than the conventionally screened group (56/8,456).

HPV

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