Boys between the ages of 12 and 13 in the United Kingdom now will receive a vaccine to protect them against oral and other cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Currently, only girls are eligible to receive the vaccine in the United Kingdom.
The government’s decision follows a statement from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation calling the extension of the vaccine to boys an effective strategy for preventing cervical and non-cervical cancer among men and women alike.
The program is expected to vaccinate thousands of boys in England each year. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, England will now be one of a small number of counties to offer HPV vaccination to both girls and boys.
“The HPV vaccine for girls is already expected to save hundreds of lives every year, and I am delighted that we will now be protecting even more people from this devastating disease by extending the vaccines to boys,” said Public Health Minister Steve Brine.
“We are committed to leading a world-class vaccination program and achieving some of the best cancer outcomes in the world,” Brine said. “I am confident these measures today will bring us one step further to achieving this goal.”
“I’m pleased that adolescent boys will be offered the HPV vaccine. Almost all women under 25 have had the HPV vaccine, and we’re confident that we will see a similarly high uptake in boys,” said Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunizations at Public Health England.
According to Ramsay, the girls’ vaccination program has reduced the prevalence of HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are the main cancer-causing strains of the virus, but more than 80%.
“We can now be even more confident that we will reduce cervical and other cancers in both men and women in the future,” said Ramsay.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has been calling for a gender-neutral approach to the vaccinations and supports the government’s decision to expand them. The BDA notes that HPV is linked to 5% of all cancers worldwide, including some that affect only men.
Also, the BDA says, more than 30 people are diagnosed with oral cancers in England each day, as oral cancer rates have increased by 23% in the United Kingdom over the past decade. It has a greater incidence among men than women, the BDA adds, and nine out of 10 cases are linked to preventable causes like smoking, alcohol, and HPV.
“This decision will save lives. When our [National Health Service] faces such sustained pressure from so many preventable conditions, from cancers to tooth decay and obesity, this sort of cost-effective prevention must not be a one-off,” said BDA chair Mick Armstrong.
The BDA offers a free oral cancer toolkit to help dental professionals identify and refer possible cases of oral cancer. Early detection of oral cancer results in an approximately 90% survival rate, compared to a 50% survival rate for delayed diagnosis, the BDA says.