By New Scientist staff and Press Association
Boys in England are to be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, 10 years after it was introduced for girls.
The decision follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) last week, which stated that a gender-neutral programme to protect against the sexually transmitted virus would be cost-effective. The recommendation has already prompted the Scottish and Welsh governments to decide to extend vaccinations to boys.
“Any vaccination programme must be firmly grounded in evidence to ensure that we can get the best outcomes for patients, but as a father to a son, I understand the relief that this will bring to parents,” says public health minister Steve Brine.
The HPV vaccination is currently offered to girls aged 12 to 13 at secondary school, and is also available free on the NHS up until their 18th birthday. But the virus doesn’t only cause cervical and vaginal tumours – it can also cause penis, anus, mouth and throat cancer, as well as genital warts.
Extending the vaccination to boys will help prevent such diseases, and may mean that more gay men get protection from the virus at a younger age. Wider use of the vaccine should also further reduce cervical cancer cases in women, through herd immunity.
The girls’ programme has already reduced the prevalence of the two main cancer-causing types of HPV virus by 80 per cent, according to data from Public Health England. “Almost all women under 25 have had the HPV vaccine and we’re confident that we will see a similarly high uptake in boys,” says Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England.
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