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The Health Ministry expects to register Gardasil, the world's first vaccine to protect against cervical cancer, soon after an application for its import is requested.
The ministry will consider its inclusion in the basket of health services as a routine vaccination of teenage boys and girls against human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. The ministry's decision came after the US Food and Drug Administration gave its speedy approval for registration of the Merck pharmaceutical company's life-saving vaccine.
Dr. Eliav Bar, an Israeli citizen, is the clinical research director at Merck & Co. laboratories in the US, and is responsible for Gardasil's development.
The genetically engineered vaccine was successfully tested on adolescent girls and boys and found to provide "100 percent protection" against four common HPV types - 16, 18, 6 and 11 - and related cervical cancer, cervical pre-cancers and genital warts.
An estimated 20 million men and women are infected with HPV in the US alone. In most cases, the virus appears to go away on its own, but in some, it leads to cervical cancer, abnormal Pap tests and genital warts.
Because men can become infected and unintentionally spread the virus, they contribute to the risk of cervical cancer and are at risk of developing genital warts and, rarely, some cancers. Worldwide, 250,000 women die of cervical cancer every year.
According to the Israel Cancer Association, each year some 180 Israeli women contract cervical cancer. Apparently the rate is lower in Israel than in the US because the virus is less-easily spread by circumcised men, and virtually all men - Jewish and Muslim - in Israel are circumcised.
Before the development of the vaccine, the only way to prevent sexually active women from contracting cervical cancer was to periodically perform a Pap smear in order to identify pre-cancerous cells and remove them surgically. But once the tumor develops, it is very difficult to get rid of surgically. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are also given, and they often do not prevent metastasis to other parts of the body.
The benefit of the vaccine could be even greater in the developing world, as few women there even get tested for cervical cancer. But to be fully effective, adolescents would need to be vaccinated before they are sexually active.
Ignorance of HPV - 70% have never even heard of the virus - will require an educational campaign in order to sell the idea of the vaccine.