The Government’s scientific advisory committee has recommended that it extends human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to teenage boys to prevent related cancers.
In response, the Department of Health and Social Care said the advice was ‘with ministers’ and a decision would be reached ‘within the next few weeks’, on whether to extend the vaccine.
But the Welsh Government said it would go ahead and extend the programme in line with recommendations.
The conclusion of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) follows an evidence review launched five years ago, and comes despite interim advice from the body that this would not be cost effective.
But in today’s conclusion to the review, the JCVI said the evidence showed an extension would be beneficial.
The statement said: ‘There is evidence of benefit in vaccinating boys and a gender neutral programme would provide resilience against short-term fluctuations in uptake as well as offer the prospect of better control of the main cancer-causing types of HPV.’
It also said that ‘a combined girls’ and boys’ programme is compared to no vaccination, gender-neutral HPV vaccination is highly likely to be cost-effective’.
It said this comes amid ‘strengthening evidence on the efficacy of HPV vaccination in preventing a number of non-cervical cancers’.
(HPV) infects both males and females, and in males can progress to cause anal, penile, oropharyngeal, and oral cavity cancers as well as anogenital warts.
The JCVI’s statement said: ‘It is predicted that by vaccinating boys as well as girls, additional cases of HPV attributable cervical and non-cervical cancer will be prevented in women and additional cases of HPV attributable non-cervical cancer will be prevented in males especially in men who have sex with men (MSM).’
JCVI recommended the current programme of HPV vaccination for girls in 2008, aimed at reducing the burden of HPV-associated cervical cancer.
At the time, the committee considered that high coverage in girls would provide herd protection to boys, and that vaccination of boys would generate little additional benefit to the prevention of cervical cancer, which was the main aim of the programme.
The RCGP, which has campaigned for boys to receive the vaccine, said it was ‘delighted’ with the news.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘The HPV vaccine has proven extremely effective in protecting women against cervical cancer and we now have strong evidence to demonstrate that the vaccine also provides protection against a number of other serious cancers which affect both men and women, including head and neck cancer and anal cancer.
‘It has been frustrating that this effective vaccine has, until now, only been available on the NHS to girls but not boys. We hope parents will take up this important opportunity to get their sons and daughters vaccinated as soon as it is available to them.’
Welsh health and social care secretary Vaughan Gething said: ‘I am pleased to announce that I have decided that the HPV vaccination programme in Wales will be extended to include adolescent boys. We will be following the advice from the JCVI that offering HPV vaccination to boys will help reduce the number of cases of HPV related cancers and save lives in years to come.
‘We will now work with NHS Wales on the implementation of the new programme for roll out as soon as practicable.’