Boys 'should receive HPV jab too', say researchers
Boys should be vaccinated against a virus as well as girls to protect them from some types of cancer, according to experts writing in a leading medical journal.
“HPV vaccination is an extremely effective way to prevent HPV-related cancers of the genital area and mouth" - Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK
Dr Gillian Prue, lecturer in chronic illnesses at Queen's University Belfast, said that boys should also receive the HPV jab, which protects against the human papillomavirus.
And in 2008, the HPV vaccination programme was launched in England to vaccinate girls aged 12-13 to help prevent cervical cancer.
In a personal view published on thebmj.com, Dr Prue said that protecting boys as well as girls may cut the incidence of genital warts and several cancers among both sexes.
Uptake of the vaccine varies, so offering immunisation to boys would protect them from acquiring the infection from non-vaccinated women, or other men, she wrote. Lack of HPV vaccination is a particular problem for men who have sex with men, because they will not be at all protected by girls being vaccinated.
Vaccinating boys as well as girls would reap health and economic benefits, she said, adding: "Ultimately, any decision about whether to vaccinate boys should not be based solely on cost effectiveness. Public health, equity, and the human costs of HPV-related disease for both sexes must be the main considerations."
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Margaret Stanley, from the department of pathology at the University of Cambridge, Dr Colm O'Mahony, a consultant in sexual health and HIV at the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust, and Dr Simon Barton, clinical director of HIV/genitourinary medicine at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, highlight the "inequality" of only vaccinating girls against the virus.
They wrote: "The only sensible answer... is a gender neutral vaccination strategy in schools that gives two doses of the vaccine to all 12-13 year old boys and girls.
"Anything else is discriminatory, inequitable, less effective, and difficult to explain. Can the UK afford to do it? If the price is right, we can't afford not to."
At present the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an advisory body to the Department of Health, is investigating whether to extend the HPV vaccination programme to boys.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "More than 80 per cent of girls are now vaccinated against HPV. however we recognise that the current vaccination programme does not offer protection against HPV related cancers for gay men. Which is why the JCVI has set up a sub-committee to assess whether the programme should be extended to adolescent boys, men who have sex with men, or both."
Jessica Kirby, Senior Health Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “HPV vaccination is an extremely effective way to prevent HPV-related cancers of the genital area and mouth. Vaccinating boys would be beneficial for public health, and we hope that the JCVI will be able to find a way to achieve this in a practical and affordable way.”