Mum welcomes news that boys may get HPV vaccine too

hpv vaccination

hpv vaccination - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s 10 years since a vaccine was introduced to protect young women from the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

Becky Marsh with her son, William, six.

Becky Marsh with her son, William, six. - Credit: Archant

And since then, according to a new study, there’s been a significant fall in the number of women becoming infected with high-risk strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which also cause a range of other cancers in both women and men.

HPV infections decreased in 16 to 21-year-old women by 86% between 2010 and 2016, data from Public Health England shows.

Now, campaigners are hopeful that protection from the virus is about to be offered to boys too, with reports in the last few days that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to give the go-ahead next month for the extension of the vaccination programme to teenage boys.

Cervical cancer kills around 870 women a year and 500 women annually die from other HPV-related cancers but experts say the virus is now known to cause some 2,000 male cancers a year, killing about 650 men, mainly from mouth and throat forms of the disease - far more than previously thought. Extending the programme will protect around 400,000 boys a year.

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It’s been reported this new evidence has led the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which met earlier this month, to change its advice to ministers to say that vaccinating boys may well be cost-effective.

That news has been welcomed by Becky Marsh, who had treatment for early-stage cervical cancer which was picked up by a routine smear test in 2014.

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Becky, who lives in Beccles, and has a young son, William, said: “I would definitely encourage my son to have the vaccine (when he’s older). We always assume that a women is the one that carries HPV as it is typically related to cervical cancer and therefore a ‘female’ disease. Most of us have not been educated enough about how HPV can affect men as well and cause other cancers. The virus can easily be spread through unprotected sex. It may lay dormant and never turn into anything serious but the chance is there. We vaccinate against measles, mumps, rubella and even ‘flu. The HPV vaccine should be available to both boys and girls.”

Peter Baker, of campaign group HPV Action, which has long advocated gender equality on vaccination, said: “The decision to vaccinate boys is long overdue but still very welcome indeed.

“It will ensure that boys have the same level of protection against a range of cancers and genital warts that girls have had since 2008. It also brings the UK into line with around 20 other countries which already recommend vaccination for both sexes.

“We now urge the government and the vaccine manufacturers to move quickly to ensure that there is no further delay. With each year that passes without vaccination for all, 400,000 more boys are left at risk of the diseases caused by HPV.”

The group says it wants to see a plan for a national roll-out of the vaccine to boys, which should include provision of a catch-up programme which parallels that available to girls, at the earliest possible opportunity.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it had not yet heard from the JCVI following its June meeting but added:

“The Government takes advice from an independent expert committee—the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)—when making decisions on vaccination programmes. We will carefully consider its advice on HPV once received.”

More on the HPV and the vaccine

There are more than 100 different types of HPV and around 40 that affect the genital area, according to NHS Choices.

HPV is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it.

Most people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives, and their bodies will get rid of it naturally without treatment but some people infected with a high-risk type of HPV will not be able to clear it.

Over time, this can lead to cervical cancer if not treated. High-risk types of HPV are also linked to other types of cancer, including vaginal cancer, anal and penile cancer and some cancers of the head and neck.

Year 8 schoolgirls have been offered the HPV jab on the NHS since 2008 to protect against cervical cancer. Free HPV vaccination is also offered as part of a catch-up programme in schools or GP surgeries to all girls up to the age of 18 who have not been previously vaccinated against HPV.

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