Don't exclude boys from the "cervical cancer" HPV jab

24th April 2017

Gender Neutral Vaccination

A campaign to make a vaccine routinely given to teenage girls in the UK available to boys as well stepped up a gear this week when hundreds of doctors, dentists and other medical professionals took to Twitter.

In a coordinated campaign they sent out tweets highlighting latest research showing that almost all doctors and dentists support making the vaccine against the HPV virus available to both adolescent boys and girls as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

The vaccination was introduced across the UK in 2008 to provide 20-year protection against cervical cancer and is offered to girls aged 12 to 13 largely through secondary schools. The vaccine consists of two injections into the upper arm spaced at least six, and not more than 24 months apart.

But protection against cervical cancer is just part of the story.

HPV, or the human papilloma virus, is also a major cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx and throat. And research has shown that mouth cancers are on the rise. They are the tenth most common cancer in men and the 15th most common in women.

Along with thousands of doctors and other medical professionals, I believe that is important that teenage boys are offered the same protection as girls from these cancers. 

HPV Action

We are all members of a campaign group HPV Action which has the support of 45 patient and professional organisations including the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, the British Dental Association, the London Cancer Alliance, the Family Planning Association, the Oral Health Foundation, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Society of Public Health, the School and Public Health Nurses Association, and the Throat Cancer Foundation.

The government’s vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) began looking at gender-neutral HPV vaccination in 2013 but progress has been very slow and a decision that was originally promised in 2015 is not now expected until later this year. Even if the government does decide that boys should be vaccinated, implementation might well not start until 2020.

Apart from the impact on human lives, there are clear cost arguments in favour of extending the vaccine. It is estimated that rolling it out to 400,000 teenage boys a year would cost £22 million which is well below the £300 million that is spent on head and neck cancer treatments.

You can support the campaign by following the link here.

Let’s hope we do not have to wait until 2020 for this apparent inequality in the vaccination programme to be put right.

For more information about my work visit my CV page, or contact me here.

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