Success for HPV in boys campaign

Boys in England will be offered the HPV vaccine alongside girls, the public health minister Steve Brine announced on 24 July. This announcement follows advice from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunistation (JCVI). Health ministers in Scotland and Wales have also said that they will follow the JCVI’s advice. No announcement has been made yet for Northern Ireland.

The JCVI’s advice was issued after a five-year assessment period. In July 2017, the JCVI issued an interim statement in which it stated that it was not cost-effective to vaccinate boys and that it could not recommend a change of policy. The statement was strongly criticised by organisations advocating the vaccination of boys, principally HPV Action which represents 51 professional and patient groups. It was argued that the JCVI had not taken account of up-to-date evidence on the proportion of head and neck cancers caused in men by HPV, the particularly high risk of infection in men who have sex with men, the level of exposure to HPV in men who have sex with women who have not been vaccinated (in the UK or elsewhere) and the full economic costs of HPV-related disease.

In early 2018, the Throat Cancer Foundation initiated legal proceedings against JCVI and the Department of Health and Social Care on the grounds that not vaccinating boys was sex discrimination. The Mail on Sunday also began a campaign in support of vaccinating boys. In May 2018, there was a parliamentary debate on HPV vaccination for boys, initiated by Sir Roger Gale MP, during which MPs from all parties called for a change in policy.

Peter Baker, Campaign Director for HPV Action, says: ‘We are absolutely delighted that the JCVI changed its mind in light of the compelling scientific and clinical evidence, the need to take account of gender equality issues and the concerns expressed by politicians and in the media. About 400 000 boys each year will now be protected against an infection that can cause a range of cancers as well as genital warts. In time, we believe that in the UK over 2000 cancer cases a year will be prevented in men. The challenge now is to implement the boys programme as soon as possible and I believe it is entirely feasible for it to start by September 2019.’

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