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HPV vaccine programme kicks off in autumn

The first batches of the Cervarix vaccine selected for the immunisation campaign will arrive in Finland during the autumn. The global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline won the tender to provide the shot. GlaxoSmithKline also developed the Pandemrix vaccine to combat swine flu, but which however was shadowed by controversy following reports of narcolepsy cases in patients who had received the jab.

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The HPV vaccination programme will focus on teenage girls. Image: Jarno Mela / Lehtikuva

The Cervarix vaccine was developed to combat certain types of cancer-causing human papillomavirus or HPV.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health announced Friday that the HPV vaccine would become part of Finland’s national vaccination programme.

The competitive bidding process for supplying the vaccine ended in April with pharmaceuticals heavyweight GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) emerging on top of the tender process. The first batches of the drug will arrive in Finland during the autumn, allowing health authorities to begin the vaccination programme in schools in November.

The government initially aims to immunize teenage girls with a course of three shots administered over a six-month period. The first to receive the jab will be 15 – 16 year olds. Girls aged between 12 and 15 will receive the shot in a later phase of the campaign.

“The effectiveness and safety of this vaccine is well documented,” said Anni Virolainen-Julkunen, the ministry’s medical chief.

GSK also developers of anti-swine flu vaccine Pandemrix

GSK became infamous for its Pandemrix vaccine developed to prevent swine flu. However the shot subsequently proved to be directly linked to cases of narcolepsy in persons who had received the swine flu jab.

According to Virolainen-Julkunen the bidding process for the HPV vaccine was conducted on the basis of the best possible information available. She added that the drug was top quality.

The medical chief explained that although the vaccine is currently not readily available in Finland, sufficient quantities will be on hand for the start of the vaccination campaign.

“The manufacturer is prepared to deliver the vaccine to meet Finland’s needs,” she added.

The Ministry has granted GSK a fixed-term contract to supply the HPV shot, and intends to review the situation annually.

About 150 Finnish women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. The HPV vaccine has been proved to prevent the lesions associated with the early stages of cancer.

In spite of the introduction of the anti-cancer shot, health officials will continue screening for cancer. However screening protocols will have to change when the young women who have received the vaccine reach the age for the detection tests.

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