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September 2019

A million boys to ‘miss out’ on HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine for boys launches in schools this month – but a charity is warning that almost a million teenage boys in the UK will miss out, leaving them at risk of HPV-related cancers in adulthood.

The HPV vaccine is being given to 11 – 13-year-old boys for the first time from the start of the school year, but older boys cannot get the vaccine on the NHS and would have to pay around £150 for it privately.

When the HPV vaccination programme for girls was launched, girls in older school years were entitled to be vaccinated on the NHS as part of a catch-up programme but no such catch-up programme is planned for boys and young men aged 13 – 24 years.

New research from the Teenage Cancer Trust shows:

  • 76% of teenage boys and young men aged 13 – 24 would want to be vaccinated against HPV if it was available on the NHS
  • 46% of this group would not be willing to pay to be vaccinated and would remain unvaccinated
  • Only 34% would be willing to pay for the HPV vaccine

Public Health England says it is unnecessary to vaccinate every boy as they have reduced risk of acquiring HPV infection due to herd immunity resulting from the programme for girls.

Teenage Cancer Trust chief executive Kate Collins said: ‘The vaccine should be made available for free to all men and boys up to the age of 25 who want it, as it is for women and girls. While it is great that some boys from this year onwards will have the same protection against HPV-related cancers that teenage girls and women have had for a decade, a generation of teenage boys and young men are being denied that chance.’

The Trust says the policy not to offer the vaccination to older boys is based on the ‘false assumption’ that they will only have sexual partners who do not have HPV but that this will undermine the UK’s progress on reducing the incidence HPV-related cancers.

HPV infection in boys is associated with a range of cancers including head and neck cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer, but awareness among boys is low, the charity says.