In the UK, girls aged 12 and 13 are routinely offered the HPV vaccine in schools. Now, in a bid to reduce the number of cases of the virus further, the National Health Service (NHS) has announced that it will be extending the program to cover boys as well.
Health officials say that this could help to prevent thousands of cancer cases, and would protect against various cancers that are known to be caused by HPV. This includes throat, penile, and anal strands of the virus.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “almost every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.”
The vaccination program was introduced eleven years ago for girls in secondary school. It will now be offered to boys in the same year, at age 12 and 13. As the virus is spread through sexual contact, officials believe that this could prevent up to 100,000 cancer cases by 2058.
Although many strains of HPV are harmless, in some cases it can lead to genital warts or cancer, and in particular, cervical cancer. It’s estimated that 5% of cancers are linked to HPV. In the US, it causes around 3% of cancers in women and 2% in men.
Since the vaccination scheme was introduced in the UK, Public Health England found that the number of HPV 16 and HPV 18 infections in 16 to 21-year-old women had reduced by 86% in England. In Scotland, a similar study showed a reduced of 71%.
In a statement, Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England (PHE), encouraged parents to “take up the offer for this potentially life-saving vaccine. This universal programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls’ programme.”
“Offering the vaccine to boys will not only protect them but will also prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in girls and reduce the overall burden of these cancers in both men and women in the future.”