The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that boys should be given the HPV vaccination.
This has led the English, Scottish and Welsh governments to all agree to vaccinate boys for the virus, and the extended programme should be in place for the 2019-20 school year.
The vaccination is currently given to girls between the ages 12-13, to protect against a virus that can cause cervical cancer. The routine immunisation has been in place since 2008, during which time there has been an 86% decrease in infections in women aged 16-21.
The HPV Action Group has recommended offering the vaccine to boys at 12-13 years old, and also making it freely available for boys up to the age of 18.
Why is HPV a problem?
HPV stands for the human papillomavirus, of which there are over 100 strains and around 40 of these can affect the genitals. The virus is transmitted through close skin contact or vaginal or anal sexual contact.
In many cases HPV can go away by itself, but in the event that it doesn’t it can cause various cancers in boys, such as anal, mouth and throat cancer.
The HPV vaccine is inactive, which means that it contains the HPV cells which have been grown in a culture and then killed by being subjected to extremely high temperatures.
The virus causes skin cells to multiply at a much faster rate, which leads to the appearance of genital warts for some strains. For more damaging strains, the cells multiply to an extent where DNA is mutated which causes cervical cancer.
Why was there pressure to change the current regime?
Doctors have called for vaccinations to be offered to boys ever since they were first introduced. They have pointed to the rise in rates of oropharyngeal cancer caused by the virus, and the success of vaccinations for boys and girls in other countries around the world as reasons to make the vaccinations freely available.
The JCVI had previously stated that it could not recommend extending the HPV programme due to its expense, but now the latest report suggests that it would be cost-effective.
The idea of extending the vaccine to boys was previously argued against on account of both the cost, but also the the theory that boys would have immunity due to the fact that girls would, known as ‘herd immunity’.
What does this mean for the future of HPV?
It is widely accepted that more or less everyone who is sexually active will come into contact with HPV at some point in their lifetime, but in many cases it will go away by itself. Given the effectiveness of the vaccination, it is not unrealistic to suggest that a routine HPV vaccination programme in UK schools could go a long way to eliminating the cancerous threat of the virus.
You can read more about where to get vaccine and who is entitled to it in our previous post.