From September 2019 boys in England will be offered the HPV vaccine free on the NHS to reduce the spread of HPV related cancers. England will join Scotland and Australia in making the vaccine available to both genders to extend its successful immunisation programme.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes the majority of cervical cancers cases in women. It is also linked to 5% of other cancers including penile, anal and throat. As HPV is sexually transmitted, vaccinating both boys and girls will reduce the risk of transmission to partners and protect both sexes from the risks of other cancers.

Since the introduction of the immunisation programme, infections of type 16/18 HPV have reduced by 86% in England. This is due to the high immunisation rate, with 80% of women aged 15-24 having received the vaccine. The University of Warwick carried out modelling to assess the future impact of vaccinating both boys and girls. They found that after 50 years 64,138 HPV-related cases of cervical cancers and 49,649 other HPV-related cancer cases will be prevented.

Evidence suggests a ‘catch-up’ programme of immunising older boys is not necessary as they are already indirectly protected by high immunisation rate of girl’s programme.

However, the HPV vaccine does not protect from all the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Even girls who have received the HPV vaccine should have regular cervical cancer screenings once they reach the age of 25.
The NHS hopes the stigma surrounding the sexual transmission of HPV will not prevent parents from allowing their children to be vaccinated. They stress that vaccination rates must be kept high to maintain the success of the immunisation programme and allow protection, through herd immunity, to those who are unable to have the vaccination.

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