- 97% of dentists and 94% of GPs would have their own sons vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), in a new survey published ahead of World Immunisation Week 24th-28th April.
- 97% of dentists and 94% of GPs believe that the national HPV vaccination programme should cover both boys and girls.
95% of GPs and dentists together said if they had a son they would want him to receive the HPV vaccination. The findings come as the Government’s vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) moves towards a decision on whether boys should be given the HPV vaccination.
BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
Dr Andrew Green, a member of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GPC), said: “If we want to see an end to some of the most aggressive and hard to treat cancers such as throat, head, neck and anal cancer, boys as well as girls must be given the HPV vaccination. It is ridiculous that people are still dying from these cancers when their life could have easily been saved by a simple injection.”
BRITISH DENTAL ASSOCIATION
Mick Armstrong, Chair of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee, said: “HPV is the leading cause of oro-pharyngeal cancers and men are just as likely to develop it as women so where is the logic – or fairness – in targeting protection to one section of the population? It is morally indefensible to allow people to contract cancer when prevention – the new NHS mantra – could be so cheap and easy. Cancers affecting the mouth and throat have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives, so it’s frustrating for dentists, who are often the first to detect them, knowing how easily they could have been prevented.”
LETTER TO JEREMY HUNT
Parliamentarians from all parties have signed an open letter to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, urging him to ensure that the UK doesn’t miss this opportunity to eradicate some of the fastest rising cancers in the developed world.
Up to 80% of sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives. 5% of all cancers are caused by HPV and some of these, notably oral cancers, are now rising sharply in incidence. HPV-related cancers such as anal cancer are also among the hardest to diagnose and treat.
THE COST-EFFECTIVE ARGUMENT
Many doctors, dentists, scientists and professional and patient organisations who support the vaccination of both sexes are concerned that the JCVI will reject universal coverage on the grounds of cost despite the vaccination’s ability to protect against 5% of all cancers and the huge cost of treating HPV-related cancers and other diseases caused by HPV (genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis).
It is estimated that vaccinating boys would cost £20-22m a year at most – a figure that is dwarfed by the cost of treating HPV-related cancers and warts. An estimated £57.1 million is spent treating head and neck cancer (in England), almost £7 million on treating men with anal cancer and an estimated £58.44 million a year treating anogenital warts.
Newly-published research by Favato G, Easton T, Vecchiato R, Noikokyris E. “Ecological validity of cost-effectiveness models of universal HPV vaccination: a systematic literature review” casts doubt on hitherto published cost-effectiveness modelling and highlights the uncertainties in the process.
The authors comment: “Our findings indicate that the selective immunisation of prepubertal girls is likely to fail to achieve the expected level of herd immunity at population level. A relatively small (15–20%) overestimation of QALY-gained with selective immunisation programmes could induce a significant error in the estimate of the cost-effectiveness of universal immunisation, making the option of vaccinating boys [wrongly appear to be] cost-ineffective.”
WHY GIRLS NOT BOYS?
As well as cost, the main argument deployed against vaccinating boys is that the girls’ programme indirectly protects boys. However, this has been widely dismissed because it fails to take into account men who have sex with unvaccinated women (from the UK and other countries) or men who have sex with men.
One of the key voices in the campaign, Tristan Almada, HPV & Anal Cancer Foundation, said: “The UK government cannot ignore the overwhelming support from GPs, dentists and MPs who want boys to have the HPV vaccination. With every year that passes, almost 400,000 more boys go unvaccinated and are therefore at
risk of developing a HPV-related cancer later in life. The government must roll out gender-neutral vaccination nationally as soon as possible.”
THE GLOBAL VIEW
Australia, USA, Brazil, Bermuda, New Zealand, Austria, Israel, Italy, Switzerland and Canada all recommend that boys are vaccinated as well as girls.
Peter Baker, HPV Action Campaign Director, said: “HPV affects men and women equally and both sexes therefore deserve equal protection though a national vaccination programme. It is now time for the Government’s vaccination advisory committee to look up from its financial spreadsheets and act to end the suffering of those men and women affected by easily-preventable diseases caused by HPV.”
The survey was carried out by HPV Action with the support of the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation and its other members. HPV Action is asking people, especially the parents of boys, to sign an online petition demanding gender-neutral vaccination: and will be calling on all political parties to commit themselves to gender-neutral HPV vaccination during the forthcoming General Election campaign.