In the Emerald Isle, the debate over cervical cancer vaccination has widened today following information released by the Northern Irish Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

A spokesperson said that £450,000 has been allocated to Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland to support the implementation of a vaccination programme for prevention of cervical cancer among girls aged 12 to 18.

The Northern Irish approach is in stark contrast to that of the Irish Republic which last month abandoned its planned vaccination scheme. Health Minister Mary Harney has cited the worsening economic situation as a major factor in the Dublin Government’s decision to scrap vaccination plans.

North of the border, the DHSSPS told Pharma Times that they are “anticipating a high uptake of the vaccine”. Some 11,300 girls aged 12-13 have already been offered the vaccination along with 12,500 girls aged 17-18. However the department noted that girls living in the Republic of Ireland “would not be eligible” for the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland.”

GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine Cervarix was chosen by health services in Northern Ireland over Gardasil, sold in Europe by the Merck & Co/Sanofi-Aventis joint venture Sanofi Pasteur MSD. Asked if it would be prepared to offer a substantial tender reduction to tempt the cash-strapped Republic to use Gardasil, a spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur said that contract details remained confidential.

GSK also declined to comment, stating that they did not want to damage their position by getting into a dispute with the Republic’s government. The company is sponsoring the visit of cervical cancer expert Dr Anne Szarewski to Ireland for discussions with the government this week.

Controversy still surrounds the issue of the cervical cancer jab in England and Wales. According to a survey by GP Magazine, half of the doctors polled said they had instructions not to give the vaccine to any girls under 12 or over the age of 18, whereas elsewhere in the UK there were no such age restrictions.

These restrictions have presented GPs with an ethical dilemma in cases where women not included in the programme have requested the jab, leading to complaints of a postcode lottery. Elsewhere in England, a report published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network, has revealed that women living in deprived areas are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as those in affluent areas. By Nick Mason