Boys in school year eight will be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine from this September, potentially preventing tens of thousands of men’s and women’s deaths from genital and non-genital cancer, Public Health England (PHE) announced this morning. The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has welcomed PHE’s decision as it has long called for boys as well as girls to be vaccinated against HPV, and is urging health and education professionals to do all they can to ensure that take-up is high for both doses, to ensure full protection.
PHE pointed out that HPV is linked to about 5% of all cancers worldwide – and is thought to be responsible for more than 99% of cervical cancers, as well as 90% of anal, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers and more than 60% of penile cancers.
PHE pointed out that since the introduction of HPV vaccination, infections of some types of HPV (HPV 16/18) in 16-21 year old women have already fallen by 86% in England, and a Scottish study found that the vaccine has reduced pre-cancerous cervical disease in women by up to 71%. In addition, diagnoses of genital warts have declined by 90% in 15-17 year old girls and 70% in 15-17 year old boys thanks to HPV vaccination.
It said new research from the University of Warwick modelled comparative rates of HPV-related cancer deaths – between there being no HPV vaccination programme, and with the girls’ programme starting in 2008 and the boys’ in 2017. This estimated that by 2058 the HPV vaccination programme could have prevented up to 64,138 HPV-related cervical cancers and 49,649 non-cervical HPV-related cancers. That particular date was chosen because it will mark 50 years since the introduction of the HPV vaccination programme – so by that time, people who were vaccinated as teenagers will have reached the age groups at which they would typically be affected by HPV-related cancers.
PHE explained that:
- The first dose of the HPV vaccine will be offered to boys and girls aged 12 and 13 in year eight. The second dose can be given anytime from 6-24 months after. Two doses are needed to be fully protected.
- Girls and boys who have their first vaccination after the age of 15 will need to have three doses.
- Older boys (those currently aged 13 to 18) will not be offered the vaccine on a “catch-up” basis.
- The HPV vaccine currently used in the NHS vaccination programme is Gardasil; prior to September 2012, it was Cervarix.
- Studies have already shown that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, although protection is expected to last much longer and might be lifelong.
- Extensive reviews of HPV vaccine safety undertaken by various independent health bodies/authorities worldwide have concluded that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective.
The RCGP said the inclusion of boys in the HPV vaccination programme has huge potential to save lives. College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented: “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-eight 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."