In a bid to reduce the number of cancer cases in the UK, boys will be offered the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the government has announced.
From September this year, boys in year 8 will be offered the free HPV vaccine with the scheme marking a first for UK healthcare. Boys and girls aged 12 and 13 will be offered the first dose of the HPV vaccine, with the second dose being given between six and 24 months after.
There are over 100 different types of viruses in the HPV group, many of which are harmless. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK and is spread mainly through skin to skin contact.
It’s thought that HPV is linked to 5% of all cancers, including cervical, penile, anal and genital cancers and certain head and neck cancers. In cervical cancers, HPV is estimated to be responsible for over 99% of all cases.
Older boys aged between 13 and 18 will not be offered the vaccine, as it’s believed they already benefit from herd protection that has built up from the vaccine’s 10-year programme. Previously, the HPV vaccine was only offered to adolescent girls, though in 2018 this was extended to men who have sex with men.
Figures released by the University of Warwick estimate that by 2058, the vaccine currently being used could have prevented over 64,000 HPV-related cervical cancers and 49,000 other HPV-related cancers.
Public health minister Seema Kennedy said:
The success of the HPV vaccine programme for girls is clear and by extending it to boys we will go a step further to help us prevent more cases of HPV-related cancer every year. Through our world-leading vaccination programme, we have already saved millions of lives and prevented countless cases of terrible diseases. Experts predict that we could be on our way toward eliminating cervical cancer for good. Programmes like this are at the heart of our work to help people live longer, healthier lives through the NHS Long Term Plan and I would encourage everyone who is eligible to take up this potentially life-saving vaccine.
Head of Immunisation at Public Health England (PHE) Dr Mary Ramsay added:
This universal programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls’ programme. Offering the vaccine to boys will not only protect them but will also prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in girls and reduce the overall burden of these cancers in both men and women in the future. I encourage all parents of eligible boys and girls to make sure they take up the offer for this potentially life-saving vaccine. It’s important not to delay vaccination, as the vaccine may be less effective as adolescents get older.