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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Dependents at U.S. Army bases in the Pacific are among the first in the region to have the option of getting a controversial vaccine touted for its effectiveness against cervical cancer.

The B.G. Crawford F. Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic at Camp Zama has administered about 23 doses of the human papillomavirus vaccine, or HPV, since receiving an initial shipment in February, according to Ed Roper, director of host nation relations and public affairs for U.S. Army Garrison Japan.

The medical clinic has about 40 doses on hand, with more en route.

Sold by Merck and Co. under the trade name Gardasil, the vaccine protects against four of the major types of HPV, including two strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and nearly all that cause genital warts, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In South Korea, U.S. Army 18th Medical Command clinics should receive the vaccine by the end of the month, according to Lt. Col. Eric T. Lund, 18th Medical Command preventive medicine consultant. In an e-mail response to questions, Lund called HPV a “great, new vaccine, which can prevent most cases of cervical cancer.”

At most U.S. Forces Korea clinics, beneficiaries will be able to walk in to the immunization clinics to receive HPV, Lund wrote, adding: “This is a case-by-case basis for clinics, so it is important that beneficiaries check with their clinics before walking in for immunizations.”

The CDC recommends the vaccine for 11- to 12-year-old girls, though it indicates that the series can be started in girls as young as 9. A catch-up vaccination is recommended for females ages 13 to 26 who have not been vaccinated previously or who have not completed the full vaccine series.

The vaccine consists of an intramuscular injection of three doses spaced over six months.

While the Air Force follows CDC guidelines, Pacific Air Forces’ medical facilities are still awaiting funding for the new vaccine, according to Maj. Heather Zwicker, a PACAF spokeswoman, adding she expects money to be made available soon.

Officials at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa said they are currently awaiting Navy Medicine guidance for administering the HPV vaccination program. “We will make a public announcement when procedural guidelines are in place and we are ready to distribute the vaccine,” said hospital spokesman Brian Davis in a written response.

Information on the status of the vaccine was not available Wednesday from Yokosuka Naval Hospital or U.S. Naval Hospital Guam.

HPV has already sparked heated controversy in the States, where at least 21 states have introduced bills to mandate HPV vaccinations for school-age girls, and three states — Virginia, New Jersey and New Mexico — have passed them. Texas’ governor issued an executive order requiring the vaccine for girls entering sixth grade in 2008.

Proponents say the vaccine, to be effective, has to be issued young, before girls are sexually active. But some parents are uneasy about vaccinating 11- and 12-year-olds against sexually transmitted diseases, saying they want to explain STDs to their daughters on their own timetable, according to the Associated Press.

At Camp Zama and Army medical clinics in South Korea, children under 18 years of age require parental permission for the vaccine, officials said.

HPV vaccination is a Tricare-covered benefit for active-duty personnel and their dependents, military officials said.

More about HPV vaccineWhat is it?: The vaccine, Gardasil, is the first vaccine developed to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions, and genital warts due to HPV.

Who should have it?: The vaccine is recommended for 11- to 12-year-old girls and can be given to girls as young as 9.

Is it safe?: The federally approved vaccine has been tested in 11,000 women with no serious side effects reported. The most common side effect is brief soreness at the injection site. There is no thimerosal or mercury in the vaccine.

Protection: The vaccine guards against four strains of HPV, so it prevents about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and about 90 percent of genital warts cases.

Prevalence: About one in four women in the United States, ages 14 to 59, are infected with the sexually transmitted HPV, the major cause of cervical cancer in women. In about 90 percent of cases, HPV infections clear up within two years. About 9,600 U.S. women develop cervical cancer each year and about 3,700 will die from the disease.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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