From September 2019 boys aged 12-13 will be eligible for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which has been given to girls since 2008. HPV is a name of a very common group of viruses which affects the skin, can course cancers and is spread through skin to skin contact of the genital area and sexual intercourse. The vaccine will be offered in secondary schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and is hoped that it will prevent 29,000 cancers in men in the next 40 years.
The vaccine is most effective if given before boys and girls become sexually active. The vaccine being given to girls has seen a reduction in HPV infections, genital warts, pre-cancerous growths and there has been a reduction in cervical cancers. The decision has been taken to now offer it to boys to reduce even more cancers of the anus, penis and head and neck.
Boys who are 14 to 18 will not be able to get a free catch up vaccine but they can buy it for around £150 per dose. For example one patient who was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue caused by HPV paid for his sons to have the vaccination as he did not want them to suffer as he did. Chemists and travel vaccination centres offer the three course of injections for around £500 if you are not eligible for the free vaccination.
Jamie Rae was diagnosed with throat cancer after finding a small disc shaped lump growing in his neck caused by the virus. Jamie had never heard of HPV. Jamie was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer in 2010 and underwent a tonsillectomy and then six weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. Jamie couldn’t speak or eat for months, was left with very little saliva and became depressed. He therefore set up the Throat Cancer Foundation to raise awareness of the virus.
Health officials say that boys are already benefiting from protection from the girls’ HPV vaccination programme as this has reduced the spread of the virus. Girls can also have a catch up jab up to the age of 25.
Dr David Elliman, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has welcomed the vaccination programme for boys and stated that ‘in time, this will lead to a significant reduction in cancers of the anus, penis and head and neck.’ Dr Mary Ramsay of Public Health England said the programme could ‘make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past.’
It is estimated that 85,000 cancers will be prevented in women, including 64,000 cases of cervical cancer and 29,000 in men in the UK by 2058 due to the vaccine.
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