RSPH Hails HPV Vaccination For Boys As A Victory

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has welcomed the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s recommendation, made public today (18 July 2018), to extend the immunisation programme against human papillomavirus (HPV) to boys. Consequently, it is expected that the Government will shortly announce the extension of the scheme, marking the successful culmination of a long campaign by several health organisations, including RSPH, to ensure gender neutral vaccination.

HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection, with an estimated 70-80% of sexually active people becoming infected at some point in their lives. In most cases, the virus passes through the body without leading to disease, but in a small percentage of cases HPV can lead to cancer or genital warts. HPV-related cancers include cervical cancer, the most well-known, but also vaginal, vulval, anal and penile cancers and cancers of the head and neck.

Girls in the UK have been routinely vaccinated against HPV since 2008, mostly via a schools-based programme. Boys, until now, have not been included in the immunisation schedule, despite also being susceptible to HPV-related illnesses, because it was thought that herd immunity would extend the protection to boys. However, this protection did not extend to men who have sex with men (MSM), who have a particularly high incidence of anal cancer, because they fall outside of the ‘herd’.

While more recent policies extended the HPV vaccine to MSM who present at sexual health clinics on an opportunistic basis, this policy is insufficient to ensure high uptake. As well as MSM, in several areas of the UK, uptake of the vaccine for girls was insufficiently high to ensure herd immunity in the community. Further, men were still at risk of acquiring HPV from sexual contact with women from countries without a vaccination programme against HPV. The decision to extend the programme to boys will mean that, in future, all boys will be protected against HPV infection.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “The JCVI’s decision to advocate for a gender neutral vaccination programme against HPV is a victory for the public’s health. Boys have been left insufficiently protected against HPV for too long and it is good news that the UK is following in the footsteps of the other 20 countries already vaccinating boys against HPV.

“It is estimated that HPV causes up to 5% of all cancers and, with the NHS under pressure, the value of the prevention of ill-health is only increasing. The government and vaccine manufacturers should aim to roll the immunisation programme out to all boys as soon as possible.”

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