The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) unanimously recommended today that 11- and 12-year-old girls be routinely vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer. ACIP also voted to cover the HPV vaccine under the Vaccines for Children Program, a federal program that provides immunization for uninsured and underinsured children.

The ACIP decision follows in the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Merck’s HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which has proven 100% effective against the two strains of HPV responsible for 70% of incidents of cervical cancer.

HPV is a little known but very common sexually transmitted infection. The CDC estimates that some 20 million Americans have been exposed to HPV, although the vast majority of these infections are from strains that cause no significant health consequences. Two strains, however, are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer in the U.S., a disease that each year affects over 10,000 women and kills more than 3,700. Overseas, the numbers are even more frightening: Almost 300,000 women die every year from cervical cancer

In the United States, the ACIP recommendations are particularly important because they will likely ensure that the vaccine is covered by public funding and by private insurers.

The vaccine requires a three-shot series and is estimated to cost $360 — the most expensive vaccine ever — which could restrict access for those who need it most. Cervical cancer disproportionately affects poor and minority women, who lack the health insurance or income necessary to pay for regular pap smears to detect cervical cancer. Less than half of women of color have received recent screening for cervical cancer.

We must adequately fund this new medical breakthrough at the state and federal level in order to make it available to all women and girls, particularly those who are most at risk of developing cervical cancer. We must also continue to fund regular education, screening and follow-up exams for HPV and cervical cancer in order to best protect women from all forms of the disease.

For more information on the HPV vaccine, read:

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