The HPV vaccination is going to be available to boys across the whole of the UK from September, in a move that’s predicted to prevent tens of thousands of cancer cases.
The vaccine will be rolled out on the NHS, to boys in year 8 — aged 12 to 13 — in a “triumph for gender equality in cancer prevention,” according to Prof. Beate Kampmann, the director of the vaccine centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
HPV refers to the human papilloma virus — a group of common viruses, some of which are linked to cervical cancer, among other types of oral, throat, and anal cancers too.
As the virus is sexually transmitted, vaccinating boys as well will help further protect their partners from the spread of the virus.
But there are also significant benefits for boys, too — for example, it will help prevent penile, anal, and genital cancers, as well as some cancers of the head and neck, according to the Guardian.
It’s believed that the extension of the HPV vaccine programme will prevent 29,000 cancers in men in Britain in the next 40 years.
“It’s pleasing to see the UK follow the example of other countries like Australia, where the vaccine has been implemented for girls since 2007 and for boys in 2013,” continued Kampmann. “This has resulted in the HPV rate among women aged 18 to 24 dropping from 22% to 1% between 2005 and 2015.”
“This success speaks for itself,” he said. “We now have the tools to eradicate most HPV-associated cancers for men and women.”
Globally, there were an estimated 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer in 2018, according to the World Health Organisation — with 90% of cervical cancer deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
The WHO’s target is to cut the number of cases of cervical cancer globally to a maximum of four per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile in Britain, it’s the second most common type of cancer in women under 35.
The vaccination programme for girls was launched in 2008. But by the 50th anniversary of the programme, in 2058, it’s believed that the vaccine will have prevented more than 100,000 cancers across the UK, according to Public Health England.
The University of Warwick has reportedly done work to predict the likely impact of the vaccination programme after 50 years — and predicts that 64,138 cervical cancers, and 49,649 other HPV-related cancers will be prevented.
But the programme so far is already seeing great success across the UK.
In April, for example, a study from a team of researchers at a number of Scottish universities showed that the universal roll-out of the HPV vaccine had prompted a “dramatic” reduction in cervical cancer later in life.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed the vaccination programme for girls had “exceeded expectations” — nearly wiping out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women.
“The main message is that the vaccine works,” said Dr. Kevin Pollock, from Glasgow Caledonian University. “As long as the high uptake continues, the virus has got nowhere to go and it is being eliminated.”
He described the findings in Scotland as “remarkable news,” and said that immunisation “offers the only feasible solution to preventing a cancer the cause of which is well-established.”