Germany is recommending millions of girls get a new vaccine against a virus known to cause cervical cancer and has launched a nation-wide awareness campaign against the disease.
Breaking ground: Germany recommends protecting young girls against a sexual disease
Germany's Standing Vaccination Commission has recommended that girls aged 12 to 17 be vaccinated against cervical cancer. The Robert Koch Institute said a course of three injections should be completed before girls start to have sexual relations.
The vaccine against the human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause precancerous and cancerous lesions in infected women, has also been at the heart of a vaccination debate in the US.
Under new guidelines, state insurers would pay for the vaccine
There, lawmakers in some states have argued against making the vaccine mandatory, arguing that an inoculation aimed at protecting young girls from a sexually transmitted disease is akin to promoting promiscuity. The vaccination is most effective on people who are inoculated before they have sex.
In Italy, free treatment for girls
The vaccine recommended by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal disease control and prevention agency, protects people against the human papilloma viruses (HPV) 16 and 18. About 70 percent of cervical cancer tumors are caused by these HPVs.
Some 6,500 women in Germany get cervical cancer each year, and around 1,600 die of it.
The German decision adds the HPV vaccination to the national schedule for standard vaccinations four months ahead of the next regular update of this schedule in July 2007.
Health authorities in Austria, France and Italy have already recommended similar vaccinations for girls, and Italy became the first EU nation to offer the vaccine free for 12-year-old girls.
Meanwhile, a two week Germany-wide education campaign began on Wednesday, called "tell someone -- I'm passing the word, what about you?" and aimed at getting gynecologists, doctors and pediatricians to spread the word on the disease.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, 12 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys in Germany say they have had sexual intercourse by the age of 14. By the time they are 17 years old, 73 percent of girls and 66 percent of boys say they have had sex.
Well more than half of Germans say they have had sex by age 17
Add to that the fact that some 70 percent of sexually active women come into contact with the papilloma virus, and of these, the vast majority (70 to 90 percent) are infected. The Robert Koch institute said that because of the wide variety of HPV types, however, early-warning controls like pap smears must continue.
Carrying the costs
The inoculation in Germany is recommended, although not obligatory. But the support from the Vaccination Commission means the course of three injections, costing 150 euros ($250) each, will be covered by state insurers.
Some US public health experts have stopped short of recommending the vaccination, but not just for moral reasons. They say they are not sure whether it is the smartest or most cost-effective move.
Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases have described the vaccine as safe and effective in preventing cervical cancer, but they also did not recommend making the vaccination mandatory.
Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and a member of the AAP committee, told Forbes magazine he believes there will be significant economic consequences for states in the US if the HPV vaccine is mandated.