24th Jul 2015

Campaign to give HPV vaccination to boys gathers pace

Keywords: HPV, Vaccinations, Vaccines

The campaign for boys to be given the vaccination against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) gathered pace this week. 

Professor Harald zur Hausen (pictured), the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered the link between HPV and cancer, said boys should also be protected.

Speaking to The Independent, he said there was a wealth of evidence that HPV also causes cancer in men and that there was now a chance to “eradicate” HPV viruses altogether if the world developed global vaccination programmes for all children.

While Australia, Austria, Israel and parts of Canada have introduced publicly-funded vaccination programmes for girls and boys, the UK has offered free vaccinations against HPV to girls aged 12 to 13 since 2008.

These are usually given at secondary school as a protection against cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35.  In 99% of cases cervical cancer occurs as a result of a history of infection with high-risk types of HPV which is easily spread by sexual activity.

While HPV is very common, in most cases the virus does no harm as the immune system gets rid of the infection with no symptoms.  The vaccination provides protection lasting around 20 years.

In the article, Professor zur Hausen, the German virologist who discovered the link between HPV and cervical cancer, says:

“The vaccination programme for girls [in the UK] is marvelous – it reaches a very high proportion. In my opinion the vaccination of boys is also of the utmost importance because virus transmission is due to make partners and men are affected by oropharyngeal [cancers of the throat], anal and penile cancers as well as genital warts.”

Professor zur Hausen is the latest senior figure to speak out in favour of boys having the vaccine.

I am a member of a group called HPV Action (HPVA) which is campaigning for gender-neutral HPV vaccinations in the UK. HPVA is supported by 38 leading patient and professional organisations including the Royal Society for Public Health. 

A group of MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Cancer, Dentistry, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Men’s Health and HIV and Aids also support vaccinating boys aged 12 and 13 as well as girls. 

In a letter to The Times last year they wrote that in addition to the health benefits, “the long-term savings in treatment and care of men with HPV-related diseases would considerably outweigh the extra cost (about £20 million a year) of extending the [vaccination] programme.”

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Keywords: HPV, Vaccinations, Vaccines