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No HPV jab for boys

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
person getting vaccination in arm

20th July 2017 –- Health bodies are condemning a decision not to include boys in the human papilloma virus ( HPV) vaccination programme as "shameful" and a "missed opportunity".

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has concluded that it "did not recommend vaccinating boys at this time as it was considered unlikely to be cost-effective".

Girls aged 12 to 13 have routinely been offered the HPV jab since September 2008 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

The JCVI has been considering whether to include boys on the scheme since 2014.

Protection against some cancers

HPV is the name for a group of viruses that are most commonly passed on through genital contact between straight and same-sex partners.

It is a very common infection. Almost every sexually active person will get HPV at some time in their lives.

Most people who get HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, but for some it can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck, as well as causing genital warts.

According to health professionals, the virus has been linked to 1 in 20 cases of cancer in the UK.

Campaigners in favour of giving boys the jab argue that HPV does not discriminate between the sexes and that offering the vaccine to boys in school would save lives.

'Few additional benefits'

The JCVI has decided that a high take-up of the vaccine among girls would provide 'herd protection' to boys, and that vaccination of boys "would generate little additional benefit to the prevention of cervical cancer, which was the main aim of the programme".

Additionally, the committee found insufficient evidence that the jab would protect against cancers affecting males such as anal, head and neck cancers. However, it agreed to keep evidence under review, particularly for men who have sex with men.

'An astonishing decision'

Several health bodies have issued statements criticising the JCVI's decision. The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare says it's a "missed opportunity" and is urging it to reconsider its stance in October after a period of public consultation. Peter Baker, HPV action campaign director, says: "It is astonishing that the government's vaccination advisory committee has ignored advice from patient organisations, doctors treating men with HPV-related cancers, public health experts and those whose lives have been devastated by HPV.

"The interim decision not to vaccinate boys is about saving money not public health or equity."

Dentists are also condemning the decision. Mick Armstrong, chair of the British Dental Association, says: "HPV has emerged as the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers, so JCVI’s unwillingness to expand the vaccination programme to boys is frankly indefensible. The state has a responsibility to offer all our children the best possible defence.

"Dentists are on the front line in the battle against oral cancer, a condition with heart-breaking and life-changing results. Ministers can choose to sit this one out, or show they really believe in prevention."

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