Health experts call on the government to offer ‘catch-up’ HPV vaccination to boys up to age 18 to protect them against fatal diseases
16 leading experts in the field of HPV and the diseases it can cause have written to the public health minister Steve Brine MP urging him to offer HPV vaccination to boys aged up to 18 as a catch-up programme. This would run alongside the vaccination programme for 12/13 year old boys which the government intends to roll out from September 2019.
The experts have also called on the minister to make a firm commitment to starting boys’ vaccination next year rather than just saying he intends to do so.
The letter’s signatories include: Mick Armstrong, chair of the British Dental Association; Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal Collage of Surgeons; Hisham Mehanna, Professor of Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Birmingham; Ian Mills, Dean, Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK); Professor Chris Nutting, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital; and Dr Olwen Williams, President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV.
Ministers have so far rejected the case for a catch-up programme for boys on the grounds that boys are partly protected by the vaccination of girls. The experts point out, however, that the government’s own vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) recommended HPV vaccination for boys precisely because vaccinating girls offers boys inadequate protection. Moreover, men who have sex with men are completely unprotected by the girls’ programme. The experts also state that when the girls’ programme was introduced in 2008, they benefited from a catch-up programme and boys should be entitled to the same on the grounds of fairness.
The announcement of the decision to vaccinate boys was long overdue. It was originally promised in 2015 but took three more years to become policy. In that time, around one million boys missed out on HPV vaccination and they are therefore at risk. The experts argue that the opportunity must be seized to vaccinate as many boys as possible while they are still at school and therefore easier to reach.
Commenting on the letter, HPV Action’s Campaign Director Peter Baker said: ‘The government must not ignore the views of 16 leading experts in the HPV field. It must reconsider its short-sighted decision not to offer boys a catch-up programme and it must also make an unequivocal commitment to start vaccinating boys from next September. Boys can no longer be left at risk of developing potentially fatal cancers and other diseases caused by HPV.’