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The Globe and Mail

Health Canada approves expanded market for Gardasil

Megan Burrows, a student at Westheights Public School in Kitchener, Ont., gets the HPV shot at school Thursday, September 13, 2007.

Geoff Robins for The Globe and Mail/geoff robins The Globe and Mail

Pharmaceutical giant Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. has won Health Canada's approval to expand the market for Gardasil, a vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer.

The primary market focus has been on girls and young women between the ages of 9 and 26. With this approval, the company can now claim the vaccine can also benefit women up to the age of 45.

Gardasil protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is the principal cause of cervical cancer and genital warts. The virus is spread through sex with an infected partner. Earlier studies suggested the vaccine is most likely to provide maximum benefit if it is given before a person becomes sexually active.

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Since the vaccine's initial approval in 2006, Merck has followed up with additional research of women between the ages of 24 and 45. Although women in this age group might have been already exposed to some strains of HPV, they may not have been in contact with all four subtypes covered by the vaccine. So the shots can potentially still provide some protection against new infections.

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