The FDA granted approval for Merck's Gardasil, a cervical vaccine, for females aged 9 to 26 on June 8th.

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel voted on Thursday last week to recommend that Gardasil be added to the list of routine immunisations for girls between the ages of 11 and 12 years.  The vaccine is designed to protect against two strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), which cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, as well two strains of HPV that cause about 90 percent of genital warts.

The CDC panel also suggested that females between the ages of 13 and 26 who have not previously been vaccinated receive Gardasil because they will benefit from getting the vaccine.  The panel also noted that girls as young as nine years old may also be vaccinated, at their doctor's discretion.   Although the advisory committee said that the vaccine should be administered before the onset of sexual activity, panel members noted that women who are sexually active should still be vaccinated.

Gardasil represents an important medical breakthrough in the treatment of cervical cancer.  The panel's recommendations for Gardasil represent a potentially significant advance in women's health given that prevention strategies are likely to be more effective (and cost effective) than a cure once disease has set in.

The vaccine is unlikely, however, to replace other prevention strategies or offer a cure and women should still continue to undergo routine screening for cervical cancer.