HPV vaccination for boys – parliamentary debate

MPs from all sides of the House of Commons called for boys to receive the HPV vaccine in a recent parliamentary debate.

With a decision from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on HPV vaccination for boys expected this year, possibly by the summer, the debate was very timely.

The debate was initiated by the Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale who admitted that he had only recently become aware of the issue but was convinced that the case for vaccinating boys to prevent cancer was a ‘no-brainer’. He considered the argument that a high vaccination rate in girls protects boys to be ‘fallacious’, observing that in some parts of the UK female vaccination rates are as low as 50%, that young men have as many as 10 sexual partners on average, and that there is a risk of exposure during foreign travel. Sir Roger added that the high cost of treating the estimated 2000 new cases of HPV-related cancer in men each year in the UK was greater than that of extending the vaccination programme to boys.

Sir Peter Bottomley MP observed that herd immunity would develop ‘twice as fast’ if young males are vaccinated alongside young females. John Howell MP added that it was important to take account of HPV vaccination’s role in preventing genital warts as well as cancer in men. Martin Docherty-Hughes MP argued that decision-makers should consider ‘the lived experience’ of men suffering the consequences of not having been vaccinated. Mr Docherty-Hughes also believed that young women should not be expected to take responsibility for young men’s sexual health.

The shadow public health minister, Sharon Hodgson MP, stated that there is now enough evidence to support HPV vaccination for boys. She argued that the vaccination programme targeted at men who have sex with men (MSM) was not sufficient, in part because many are likely to have been infected before they attend a sexual health clinic. Mrs Hodgson listed 14 other countries that were either already vaccinating boys or planned to do so and she urged the government’s vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) to make a decision this year.

In his response to the debate, the public health minister Steve Brine MP said he was unable to preempt the JCVI’s decision but was keen that the issue was resolved soon. He acknowledged that vaccinating girls alone provides only ‘some’ indirect protection for boys and that the MSM programme is ‘not the start and certainly not the end of the story.’ He confirmed that an equality analysis would be conducted once the JCVI has issued its final advice.

According to Peter Baker, Campaign Director for HPV Action, ‘Ministers and the JCVI must now be aware of the depth of cross-party support for vaccinating boys. HPV Action believes that, in what might be the last few weeks of the JCVI’s consideration of the issue, it is vital that as many clinicians as possible add their voice by writing to Steve Brine and/or their local MP. For information on how to do this, visit the HPV Action website.’

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