Boys in England, Wales and Scotland to Receive HPV Vaccination

Peter Russell

July 24, 2018

A vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV) is to be given to adolescent boys in England, Wales and Scotland. Preparatory work is also beginning in Northern Ireland prior to a decision being taken there.

Girls aged 12 to 13 throughout the UK are routinely given the jab in secondary schools.

Last week, the Welsh and Scottish governments announced they would follow a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that the vaccination programme should be extended to boys of the same age. The British Medical Association (BMA) called the Committee's decision "an important moment for public health".

Vaughan Gething, cabinet secretary for Health and Social Services in Wales said "offering HPV vaccination to boys will help reduce the number of cases of HPV related cancers and save lives in years to come". The Scottish Government said a vaccination programme would be rolled out "as soon as is practicable".

Today, the Department of Health and Social Care in England announced it would also vaccinate boys against HPV.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England, said: "This extended programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls' programme, which has already reduced the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18, the main cancer-causing types, by over 80%. We can now be even more confident that we will reduce cervical and other cancers in both men and women in the future."

A Northern Ireland Department of Health spokesperson said: "In light of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) recommendation the Department has directed that preparatory work be commenced to allow for the introduction of HPV in boys in Northern Ireland pending a decision by an incoming Minister."

Male and Female Cancers

HPV is a common infection that can affect both males and females. It can cause anal, penile, oropharyngeal, and oral cavity cancers, and anogenital warts. HPV-associated cancers in males are relatively rare compared with cancer of the cervix in females.

When the JCVI recommended a universal HPV vaccine programme for girls in 2008 its priority was to reduce rates of cervical cancer. It decided that high coverage in girls would provide 'herd protection' to boys.

Ten years later the Committee said there was now stronger evidence that HPV was associated with non-cervical cancers, which affect men as well as women, and that vaccination was effective in preventing these other HPV-related cancers.
 

'Highly Cost-effective'

The Committee concluded: "If considering a cost-effectiveness analysis where a combined girls' and boys' programme is compared to no vaccination, gender-neutral HPV vaccination is highly likely to be cost-effective."

Countries, including Australia, Canada and the US have introduced universal HPV vaccination.

Professor Helen Bedford, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said that it was "welcome news" that the Government has announced the extension of the HPV vaccine programme to include teenage boys in England. "We are already seeing the benefits of the HPV vaccine programme among girls with dramatic reductions in HPV infections that can lead to cancer. Boys have gained some protection from this vaccine programme through community immunity. The extension of the programme is an important and welcome development that will ensure that all boys are afforded protection against HPV infections that can lead to cancers of the mouth and throat, penis and anus."

Editor's note: This article was updated to include England's vaccination programme announcement.

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