LOS ANGELES MIDDLE SCHOOLERS will have the chance to benefit from an extraordinary medical breakthrough when they return to class in a few weeks: The L.A. Unified School District will make available to female students the first vaccine to protect against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
The vaccine, approved in June by the Food and Drug Administration, is most effective when given to girls before they become sexually active. Distributing a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease to 11- and 12-year-old girls, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, may be controversial in some quarters. But the health benefits are too great to ignore. And the district, which plans to distribute the vaccine when it becomes available this fall, will allow parents who object to the vaccine to opt out.
The vaccine, known as Gardasil, is nearly 100% effective in preventing human papillomavirus infections -- the most common STD in the country, with more than 6.2 million new infections a year. Most cases are innocuous and clear up on their own. But some lead to cervical cancer, which kills nearly 4,000 women in the U.S. annually.
L.A. Unified said it would begin offering the vaccine to middle and elementary school girls. This is important because a disproportionate share of the district's low-income and minority students get vaccinated for free at school clinics. Moreover, low-income and minority women make up half of all cases of cervical cancer.