Author: Anna Collinson, Reporter, Victoria Derbyshire programme
Doctors and health professionals are regularly paying hundreds of pounds for their teenage sons to receive a vaccination against cancer that girls already receive for free on the NHS, the Victoria Derbyshire programme has been told. Is boys’ health being put at risk?
“Had the HPV vaccine been available when I was a boy, I believe I would not have developed throat cancer more than 30 years later,” said Jamie Rae, 53.
“I’m basing this on the overwhelming majority of research I have seen over the years and countless experts I have spoken to.
“That’s why I’m desperate for boys to be able to receive it.”
HPV is the name given to a large group of viruses. It is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it. Doctors say 90% of HPV infections go away by themselves – but sometimes infections can lead to a variety of serious problems. For boys, this includes cancer of the anus, penis, mouth and throat.
Since 2008, girls aged 12 to 18 across the UK have been offered HPV vaccinations as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It is currently not offered to boys of the same age, but it can be done privately, costing several hundred pounds.
Mr Rae founded the Throat Cancer Foundation after the treatment he received in 2010. He said at the time there was little information on HPV and he did not want anyone to go through his experience.
“I had radiotherapy for 35 days except weekends. I felt extreme burning in my neck and mouth and I was covered in sores. The pain was excruciating,” he explained. “It’s a lengthy recovery time. You have to teach yourself to swallow again and you get a dry mouth all the time.”
His foundation is part of HPV Action – which represents more than 50 groups and charities that are calling for both genders to receive the vaccination on the NHS.
Mr Rae said the current disparity between boys and girls was “appalling”.
“Lots of doctors are having their boys vaccinated because they can afford it, as are those who are better informed,” he said. “But what about those who can’t afford it? Cases of throat cancer are soaring. It’s indefensible.
“Every day that goes past where boys are not being vaccinated condemns them to a whole host of diseases that we could prevent.”
HPV Action says around a dozen countries including Australia, Canada and the US are already vaccinating boys or are planning to do so in the near future. The government’s vaccination advisory committee is currently reviewing whether boys should receive the HPV vaccination.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Cares says it will carefully consider its advice once they’ve received it. Campaigners hope there will be a decision this year, possibly as soon as June. A debate is taking place on Wednesday at Westminster Hall about the issue.
The argument for vaccinating boys against HPV:
- About 15% of UK girls eligible for vaccination are currently not receiving both doses, a figure which is much higher in some areas
- Most older women in the UK have not had the HPV vaccination
- Men may have sex with women from other countries with no vaccination programme
- Men who have sex with men are not protected by the girls’ programme
- The cost of treating HPV-related diseases is high – treating anogenital warts alone in the UK is estimated to cost £58m a year, while the additional cost of vaccinating boys has been estimated at about £20m a year
Source: HPV Action