Author: Andrew Gregory
A vaccination could soon be offered to every schoolboy to help tackle the rising rate of some cancers in men, a Government minister revealed on Thursday. Health chiefs are poised to drop their opposition to extending the jab to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is already given to all Year 8 girls. The likely move follows growing alarm over cancers of the mouth, throat, neck and head, as well as penile and anal cancer, amid growing evidence that they are caused by HPV.
The NHS (National Health Service) spends more than £300m a year treating head and neck cancers, while giving the vaccine to all boys would cost just £22m, supporters say.
Health Minister Jane Ellison has revealed that the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is investigating the change, with its verdict due early next year. Mrs Ellison – who has previously described giving the HPV jab to girls only as “a little odd” – said: “I understand the wish for it to be available to all adolescents regardless of gender.
“The JCVI is reconsidering its initial advice on this and modeling is under way to inform its consideration. We will look at that as a priority when we get it.
“I recognize the frustration that people have expressed and I have talked personally to Public Health England officials who are involved in the modelling work.”
The minister said money was already available to extend the vaccination program if the JCVI said yes, adding: “The Government have always acted on its recommendations.” The looming move comes after a Commons debate heard that men are six times more likely than women to have an oral HPV infection – yet they are not vaccinated.
Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford , a part-time dentist himself, said up to 70% of throat cancers are caused by HPV, adding: “The statistics make for hideous reading.”
HPV is also linked to around 80% of anal cancer in men, almost half of penile cancers and is responsible for nine out of 10 cases of genital warts. A national vaccination program HPV was introduced for 12 and 13-year-old girls as long ago as 2008, to prevent cervical cancer.
But experts agree the program does not create sufficient “herd immunity”, prompting a recent decision to begin a trial to give the jab to some gay men. Around 40,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) will be vaccinated, targeting under-45s who attend sexual advice clinics.
A campaign group called HPV Action has called for all boys to be vaccinated as soon as possible – warning 367,000 are at risk of developing a preventable disease in later life, for every year of delay.