Around two million boys in the UK will miss out on the HPV vaccine because of the Government’s refusal to offer them a catch-up.
Ministers announced in the summer that the life-saving jabs, which have been given to teenage girls since 2008, would also be offered to boys.
When the roll-out was announced for girls a decade ago, officials offered a catch-up programme to those aged between 13 and 18.
But this same 13-to-18 add-on will not be offered to boys who, it is hoped, will be able to get the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13 from 2019.
Critics fear this could mean a generation of boys too old to qualify for the vaccine won’t be protected from the virus, which can cause cancer of the penis and anus.
The HPV vaccine will be offered to boys soon – public health minister Steve Brine hopes from 2019 – but the Government has said there won’t be a catch-up programme to offer the jab to schoolboys who are over the age of 13 and missed out on the cancer-preventing jab
Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister, criticised the Government’s public health minister, Steve Brine, for saying boys would get ‘herd protection’.
On this basis, young men would be protected because so many women are immune to the virus, but this leaves gay men exposed, Ms Hodgson argued.
‘This means that there will be yet another cohort of boys who have failed to be protected from the HPV virus,’ Ms Hodgson said.
‘The notion of herd immunity is not good enough, especially for men who have sex with men and have not been vaccinated.’
Experts have also warned men will be put at risk when they have sex with women who come from countries without a vaccination programme, The Guardian reported.
‘I am calling on the government to begin the vaccination programme for boys as soon as possible,’ Ms Hodgson added.
‘And introduce a catch-up programme for boys, like they did for girls, so that they can be protected from the virus.’
In a letter to Ms Hodgson, Mr Brine said a male catch-up programme would add extra pressure on the NHS and could disrupt the routine vaccinations, confirming one would not take place.
This could mean that boys who are currently the right age for the vaccine will never get it.
When the jab is introduced it will be given to 12 and 13-year-old boys – spread over two doses in years eight and nine, the same way it is given to girls.
A vaccine for HPV – human papillomavirus – began to be given to girls after it became clear the virus was linked to almost all cervical cancer cases.
WHAT IS HPV? THE INFECTION LINKED TO 99% OF CERVICAL CANCER CASES
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with HPV in their lives
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between genitals, it is extremely common.
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of which can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.
Many people never show symptoms, as they can arise years after infection, and the majority of cases go away without treatment.
It can lead to genital warts, and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.
Annually, an average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and around 2,000 other cancers in men.
HPV can also cause cancers of the throat, neck, tongue, tonsils, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can take years for cancer to develop.
But the virus, of which there are more than 100 types, can also cause genital warts and cancers of the vagina, penis and anus.
In Australia, where the vaccine is also given routinely and has been given to boys for five years already, the Government offered a catch-up programme for young men.
‘We think boys in the UK deserve the same,’ Peter Baker, campaign director for HPV Action told the Guardian.
‘We would like HPV vaccination to be available to all boys who are still at school so that as many as possible are protected from this cancer-causing virus,’ he added.
In his letter, health minister Mr Brine said gay and bisexual men would be protected by another HPV vaccination programme offering it to under-45s.
This programme is being phased in after being announced earlier this year – the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already offers the jab to men who have sex with men.
Following a trial in England in 2016, the vaccinations are being rolled out in sexual health clinics to protect men who don’t benefit from female herd immunity.
Mr Brine said: ‘This programme will continue after the adolescent HPV programme is extended to boys, and will therefore provide protection to those older boys who are not eligible for, or indirectly protected by, the adolescent programme.’
The Government first confirmed it would start giving the jab in July this year, after 10 years of refusing to administer it to boys as well as girls.
The move was a u-turn for the Government, which had since 2008 prioritised girls because HPV is known to cause cervical cancer, which kills 1,000 women a year.
The Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had previously concluded it was ‘overwhelmingly’ unlikely that vaccinating boys would be cost-effective.
Its conclusions were based, in part, on a flawed computer model that wrongly assumed HPV caused relatively few cancers in men.
But it is now known to cause some 2,000 male cancers annually, resulting in the deaths of about 650 men a year, mainly from mouth and throat forms of the disease.
Charities hailed the ‘huge triumph’ in July and begged the Department of Health and Social Care to start the jabs immediately.
The move brings the UK in line with 15 other countries, including Australia and the US, who gave the green light to boys getting the HPV jab nearly a decade ago.
HPV Action campaign director Peter Baker said: ‘The JCVI’s advice that boys should be vaccinated is very welcome news for boys and their parents.
‘It will also benefit those girls who for whatever reason have not been vaccinated against HPV.
‘We have waited a very long time for this announcement and it is now imperative that ministers accept the JCVI’s advice without delay so that no more boys left at risk.’