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HPV vaccine expanding to boys from September could prevent over 100,000 cancers

Public Health England (PHE) have officially launched the universal HPV vaccine programme, gaining the support of the BMA and RCGP. 

From September, 12-13-year-old schoolboys will be eligible to receive the vaccine, which protects against the Human Papilloma Virus. The expansion of the free service, introduced for girls in 2008, has led to estimates that the vaccination programme will prevent over 64,000 cervical cancers and nearly 50,000 non-cervical cancers by 2058.

BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: ‘The BMA has for a long time been calling for an extension of the HPV vaccination programme to be extended to boys in UK and the confirmation that this will go ahead in September is very welcome as it will undoubtedly reduce the risk of young men contracting cancers linked to the virus in adult life.

‘Universal HPV vaccination is the most effective way of preventing HPV-related infection and disease. Given the growing body of evidence that HPV is also responsible for a range of cancers that can affect men, this is a very important step.

‘Following the success of the vaccination programme for girls, it is only right that boys are now afforded the same protection.’

Last year, the BMA put forward a case to a House of Commons debate for HPV vaccination for boys. It was then announced last July that boys would receive the vaccination in the future, following advice by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. The Welsh Government also declared this the same month, with the news expanding to Northern Ireland earlier this year. 

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard echoed the BMA’s sentiment: ‘There is very strong evidence that shows the HPV vaccine can protect people from a virus that can trigger a wide range of cancers that affect both men and women, so it is vital that as many eligible boys and girls as possible get inoculated.

‘We are pleased that the HPV vaccine will be given to Year 8 boys, as well as girls, from September – this is something the RCGP has long-called for. The potential of this vaccine to save lives and prevent the complications of cancer is huge, and since it has been available on the NHS for girls, it has had excellent take-up, with impressive results – it’s important this success is replicated with boys.

‘We’d encourage all parents of eligible children to get their child vaccinated when it is offered, and if they miss the round for any reason that they let their school nurse know, so that they can be invited to a ‘catch-up’ clinic. It is also important that professionals across education and health are vigilant in offering it where appropriate, and checking that children in the eligible age bracket have had their vaccination.’

HPV incorporates over 100 viruses, and as well as cervical cancer, can be linked to conditions affecting the skin, moist membranes, head and neck, including other forms of cancer. 

Currently, ten million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given to young women in the UK, resulting in over 80% of women aged 15-24 having received it. Since its introduction, infections of some types of HPV (HPV 16/18) in 16-21-year-old women have reduced by 86% in England, while a Scottish study showed that the vaccine has reduced pre-cancerous cervical disease in women by up to 71%. Similarly, diagnoses of genital warts have declined by 90% in 15-17-year-old girls and 70% in 15-17-year-old boys.

Head of immunisation at PHE Dr Mary Ramsay said: ‘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.

‘It’s important not to delay vaccination, as the vaccine may be less effective as adolescents get older.’

National cancer director at NHS England Cally Palmer commented: ‘By extending the HPV vaccine to boys, the NHS is taking an important step forward in our fight to prevent cancer – more people will be better protected, and the vaccine could help to eliminate cervical cancer in this country.

‘Cancer survival is now at an all-time high, and the NHS long term plan will save even more lives through enhanced screening and early diagnosis programmes to catch cancers sooner when they can be treated best.’

Public health minister Seema Kennedy added: ‘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.’

It follows research around HPV testing which found that some women might be able to go ten years between cervical screening appointments.