‘Not good enough’: 2 million UK boys to miss out on HPV vaccine

An estimated 2 million boys will miss out on potentially life-saving HPV vaccinations after the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed it would not carry out a catch-up programme.

The government announced in July that it would extend the roll-out of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which can prevent HPV-related cervical, vaginal, penile and anal cancers, and also genital warts, to boys aged 12-13.

The vaccine has been offered to girls aged between 11 and 13 in the UK since 2008, when the government also carried out a catch-up programme for girls aged 13-18 who had missed the vaccination.

However, in a letter to the shadow public health minister, Sharon Hodgson, the public health minister, Steve Brine, confirmed there would be no such catch-up programme for boys. He said older boys already benefited from “herd protection” – indirect protection from infectious disease thanks to the immunity of a significant percentage of the population – because of the earlier vaccination introduction for girls.

“Including a catch-up programme would place additional pressure on NHS delivery services, which risks delay or disruption to the roll-out of the routine HPV programme for boys or to other vaccination programmes,” he wrote.

The decision was criticised by Peter Baker, the campaign director of HPV Action, who called it “disappointing”. The Terrence Higgins Trust has also called for a catch-up programme to ensure the same protection for boys as girl.

HPV.
 The HPV virus can cause cancers including cervical, vaginal, penile and anal. Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

“We would like HPV vaccination to be available to all boys who are still at school so that as many as possible are protected from this cancer-causing virus,” said Baker, adding the Australian government had operated a catch-up programme when it introduced HPV vaccination for boys in 2013. “We think boys in the UK deserve the same,” he said.

A date for when adolescent boys will begin to be vaccinated is yet to be confirmed. Brine said he had written to Public Health England and NHS England to ask for it to be introduced during the 2019-20 academic year.

Hodgson said: “This means that there will be yet another cohort of boys who have failed to be protected from the HPV virus, which can cause cancers and genital warts. The notion of herd immunity is not good enough, especially for men who have sex with men and have not been vaccinated.

“I am calling on the government to begin the vaccination programme for boys as soon as possible, and introduce a catch-up programme for boys, like they did for girls, so that they can be protected from the virus.”

In his letter to Hodgson, Brine noted her concern about men who have had sex with men – who are at high risk of HPV infection – and said they would be covered by a national HPV vaccination programme which was currently being introduced “by a phased roll-out”.

“This programme will continue after the adolescent HPV programme is extended to boys, and will therefore provide protection to those older boys who are not eligible for, or indirectly protected by, the adolescent programme,” he wrote.

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