The Teenage Cancer Trust is calling for the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme to be extended to older boys and young men to protect them from the risk of HPV-related cancers in adulthood.
The trust wants the programme to be offered to 13 to 24-year-old males making it fairer for a what it calls a "missing generation" who under current rules can’t get vaccinated for free on the NHS.
The HPV vaccine is being given to 11 to 13-year-old boys across the UK for the first time in this school year (2019-20) alongside girls the same age. But the trust says than a million teenage boys in the school years above them cannot get the vaccine free on the NHS and would have to pay for it.
When the HPV vaccination programme for girls was rolled out by the NHS, girls in older school years could have it free via a catch-up programme, but that option isn’t being extended to a generation of boys. They say it is vital to redress this inbuilt inequality by offering 13 to 24-year-old boys the chance to have the vaccine for free on the NHS if they want it.
Teenage Cancer Trust research shows that:
- Three in four (76 per cent) teenage boys and young men age 13 to 24 would want to be vaccinated against HPV if it was offered to them for free – as it is for teenage girls and young women.
- However, if they had to pay, nearly half (46 per cent) of teenage boys and young men say they would remain unvaccinated.
- Only one in three (34 per cent) teenagers and young adults would be willing to pay for the HPV vaccine.
Policymakers say it is not necessary for every boy to get vaccinated as they have a reduced risk of getting HPV in the UK as they are protected by the immunity some women and girls have gained from the NHS vaccination programme. After taking this into account, the trust found that seven in 10 (73 per cent) of teenagers and young adults still want to be vaccinated themselves.
The trust also found a low level of awareness of HPV, particularly in boys, and its known links to a range of cancers. Almost one in three (30 per cent) of teenagers and young adults say they have not heard of HPV. Of those teenagers and young adults who thought the HPV vaccinations protect people from infections that can cause cancer, half (50 per cent) believe it is only effective for girls and women.
Teenage Cancer Trust chief executive, Kate Collins, said: "The vaccine should be made available for free on the NHS to all men and boys up to the age of 25 who want it, as it is for women and girls. While it’s great some boys from this year onwards will have the same protection against HPV-related cancers that teenage girls and women have had for a decade, a generation of teenage boys and young men are being denied that chance.
"Parents of school-age boys may well find one child will get the HPV vaccine for free, whereas an older son will only be protected if they can afford to pay for it. That simply isn’t fair, and the cost of around £150 per dose is unaffordable for many."
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "From this year, we are making the HPV vaccine available to all boys in Year 8.
"Extending the vaccine to boys aged over 13 would only have a limited benefit as older boys and young men are already protected by herd immunity - built up by 10 years of the girls' successful vaccination programme.
"Our vaccine programme has led to a significant fall in HPV infections in young women, which will help to prevent cancers in both men and women in years to come."