As many as 2,000 new cases of cancer could be prevented each year after health officials announced the HPV vaccine will be given to 12- and 13-year-old boys from next September.
The vaccine, which has been given to schoolgirls since 2008, protects against certain strains of the human papillomavirus, which can lead cervical, oral, throat and anal cancers, as well as genital warts.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, which can be passed on through any skin-to-skin sexual contact. The vast majority of strains have no symptoms and will clear up by themselves, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer.
It’s thought 80 per cent of sexually active people will acquire HPV, however most people will have no idea they’ve even had it.
According to the BBC, the HPV vaccine will prevent 29,000 cancers in UK men in the next 40 years.
Peter Baker, who runs campaign group HPV Action, has been calling on the government for gender equality on the vaccinations.
He told UNILAD:
We obviously think it’s fantastic that the government, after a long struggle and long campaign, agreed that it was a good idea to vaccinate boys as well as girls, so this is a huge step forward.
In time, it has the potential to prevent around 2,000 new cases of cancer each year and around 40,000 cases of genital warts. So, the impact is going to be substantial.
Obviously, we won’t see that straight away as many of the cancers don’t develop for a long time, but eventually we will see a big reduction in cancer in men and vaccinating boys will also help to reduce cancers in women.
This is because women who haven’t been vaccinated for whatever reason, remain vulnerable to cervical cancer and if the men they’re having sex with have been vaccinated then they obviously can’t be infected.
While the move in policy is a huge step forward in the fight against cancer, Peter says there’s still a long way to go in protecting people from all the risks associated with HPV.
When the female HPV vaccination was rolled out in 2008, it was routinely offered to girls aged 12 and 13, however there was a ‘catch up’ system introduced for any school girls up to the age of 18 to have the jab if they wished.
While the government is set to introduce the vaccine to school boys aged 12 and 13, starting in September next year, there’s going to be no ‘catch up’ system in place, leaving thousands of school boys still at risk.
The Department of Health has said the reason for this is because boys are, in part, protected by the girls’ vaccination, however Peter says this argument is fundamentally flawed because schoolboys of all age are equally at risk.
It’s obviously true that boys can’t be infected by a girl who’s been vaccinated, so it is true that boys have some protection through the vaccination of girls, but the flaw in that argument is that those older boys who are still at school, are at exactly the same risk as the boys who are going to be vaccinated at the age of 12 or 13.
So, if the government accepts that it makes sense to vaccinate 12 and 13 year old boys, logically, it makes just as much sense to vaccinate the older boys, because they’re at the same level of risk, so their argument doesn’t stack up at all on public health grounds.
He added the government has completely overlooked the fact that men who have sex with other men are not protected by the fact girls have been vaccinated and therefore could pass the virus back and forth without any safeguarding.
There are vaccinations available for men who have sex with men, Baker said, but these have to be offered by a sexual health clinic. He said the man must be visiting the sexual health clinic for another issue in order to be offered the vaccine, meaning not everyone is being offered the same protections.
Meanwhile, the uptake rates on the female vaccinations vary enormously depending on the different local areas, which means there are still huge numbers of girls and women who are unprotected from the jab.
Peter Baker explained:
Vaccination rates vary across the country, some local areas do very well with over 90 per cent of girls vaccinated, and some do very poorly with around 50 to 60 per cent of girls vaccinated.
In some parts of the country, where vaccination rates are lower, there needs to be a bigger effort to get those vaccination rates up, so that in every part of the country, over 80 per cent of both boys and girls are vaccinated.
Loose Women star Stacey Solomon has previously spoken out about contracting HPV, admitting she ‘felt a bit dirty’ speaking about the virus.
‘I did get nervous talking about it in the beginning. I almost felt a bit dirty,’ she told the Loose Women panel.
‘I thought, if I was to talk about something I contracted sexually, it makes me [look like] someone who sleeps around, or is irresponsible. But I was taking all the precautions.’
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.