After holding a conference of experts and considering the evidence for several weeks, Health Ministry director- general Prof. Ronni Gamzu decided on Wednesday to offer – already during this school year – free human papilloma virus vaccines to eighth-grade girls.

The vaccine fights HPV and is believed to prevent cervical cancer. Any woman or girl who already was infected with HPV will not be protected by the vaccine.

However, the vaccine would prevent some 5,000 nonfatal cases each year of genital warts and precancerous growths in the cervix.

Such problems can reduce fertility, the ministry said, “thus a positive effect from the vaccine could be evidence in a short time.”

The ministry said that parents will be presented with explanations of the vaccine.

As HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, it may be that haredi families and many national-religious ones will turn down the injection because they would have to explain to their daughters the reason for it.

Critics argue that it could also give some girls of any background confidence that they can have sex without worrying about HPV, even though the shot does not prevent infection with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The ministry said that some 200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in Israeli women every year, and about half die.

The shot, which is taken in three doses, is manufactured by two companies and has two commercial names. Cervarix is manufactured by Glaxo-SmithKline to prevent infection from the type 16 and type 18 of HPV that are said to cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. The Merck pharmaceutical company’s Gardasil brand also targets type 6 and type 11, which cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

Injected into the muscle of the upper arm in a series of three shots over a period of six months, neither contain live virus, so the vaccines cannot infect the patient.

More than 175 million doses of the two vaccines have been administered around the world (most to teenage girls but in some countries even to some boys, so they do not infect their sexual partners) in 50 countries, the ministry said.

Gamzu noted that after hearing from some opposition to the vaccine, including reports of various side effects abroad, he decided to rethink the ministry’s original plans to give the vaccine, but now he has finally decided to go ahead.

The ministry’s advisory committee on infectious diseases and vaccines, the National Council for Gynecology, the National Council for Women’s Health, the Israel Ob/Gyn Society and other groups issued formal endorsements.

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