Author: Steve Williams
The UK has announced that, after a great deal of pressure, it will be making the HPV vaccine available to teenage boys, potentially protecting them from a number of cancers.
The vaccine is routinely offered to teenage girls in schools. It has shown an impressive safety record while at the same time driving down cervical, oral and throat cancer rates by protecting young women from sexually transmitted HPV.
Campaigners have long said that teenage boys should also be provided the vaccine, because evidence has shown the HPV vaccine can reduce rates of oral, throat, penile and anal cancers. Unfortunately, Public Health England has taken some convincing on this issue, with a cash-strapped National Health Service having to make sure that every investment more than pays its way.
Now, the government says it believes the cost is far outweighed by the public health benefit.
Dr. Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, is quoted as saying, “This extended programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls’ programme, which has already reduced the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18, the main cancer-causing types, by over 80 percent.”
This change of course comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said earlier this month that, after careful review, it believed the HPV vaccination program should be extended to boys, as it found “gender-neutral vaccination is highly likely to be cost effective”.
HPV VACCINE’S SAFETY RECORD IS OVERWHELMING
While there have been some scare stories in the media relating to supposed side-effects from HPV vaccine, it’s important to note that the actual safety record for HPV vaccination is overwhelmingly good.
In fact, a meta-analysis of studies involving over 70,000 women demonstrated that of the 14 deaths per 10,000 that occurred around the time of vaccination, not a single one could be directly linked to the vaccine.
Like every live vaccine, there is the potential for some side effects. HPV vaccine’s side-effects are, for the most part, mild. If a person does have an adverse reaction, it is likely to manifest in localized swelling, a rash, or feelings of fatigue or nausea — all of which will subside on their own within a day or two.
Again, like any medication, there is the potential for more serious side-effects. However, for the HPV vaccine the chances of this happening are incredibly low. The NHS puts it at less than one out of every million cases for reactions like anaphylaxis.
Ah, but aren’t there studies linking HPV to various conditions like fibromyalgia? There have been such small-scale studies. None have found a convincing link, and their size and quality pale in comparison to the data we have to support that, for most women, the vaccine is safe and effective.
It may well be that for a tiny minority of people, the vaccine could present a risk, but that possibility is neither confirmed nor does it outweigh the manifest benefit. The HPV vaccine is thought to save thousands of lives per year globally by preventing cervical cancer deaths.
In short, the weight of not just national but global evidence points to the HPV vaccine saving lives and doing so safely.
WHY THIS MOVE WILL PROTECT GIRLS AS WELL AS BOYS
The fact that the vaccine will protect boys from cancer is, for many, motivation enough to say that the vaccine should be provided to teenage boys.
However, in addition to that, protecting boys from HPV has a knock-on effect for girls. That’s because it cuts down the circulating HPV strains that cause cancer for young women. This means that those young woman who cannot have the vaccine due to their medical history or current conditions will benefit from herd immunity.
It’s estimated that HPV16 and HPV18 circulation has already gone down by 80 percent in the UK as a result of the vaccination program.
In this way, not only are we seeking to eradicate the incredibly common HPV strains, we are also helping to cut our children’s cancer risk. The UK is among the first group of nations to offer the HPV vaccine to both girls and boys, and it is hoped that other nations will follow.