Government advisors are recommending that the national HPV immunisation programme in England should include boys as well as girls.
The Joint Committee of Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) has deemed the move a cost-effective option for preventing HPV-related disease in boys and improving public health.
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection, with an estimated 70-80 percent of sexually active people becoming infected at somepoint. In most cases, the virus passes through the body without leading to disease, but in a small percentage of cases HPV can lead to cancer or genital warts.
The virus is a primary cause of cervical cancer, but can also cause cancers of the mouth, throat, penis and anus, “so only vaccinating girls has been putting boys and men at risk,” noted Kingston University professor Giampiero Favato.
If the government approves the decision, boys in England will start being vaccinated against the disease next year, following in the footsteps of Scotland and Wales.
"Once England follows suit, almost 400,000 boys a year in the UK will be protected against the virus," Prof Favator said. "This will make a significant impact on the future public health of UK citizens."
The RCGP has also welcomed the JCVI’s recommendation.
“We are delighted that the HPV vaccine will be extended to adolescent boys. This is something the College has been campaigning for and will go a long way in protecting both boys and girls from a virus that can trigger a wide range of cancers,” said its chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.
“The HPV vaccine has proven extremely effective in protecting women against cervical cancer and we now have strong evidence to demonstrate that the vaccine also provides protection against a number of other serious cancers which affect both men and women, including head and neck cancer and anal cancer.”
The Royal Society for Public Health also hailed the decision as “a victory for the public’s health”.
“Boys have been left insufficiently protected against HPV for too long and it is good news that the UK is following in the footsteps of the other 20 countries already vaccinating boys against HPV,” said chief executive Shirley Cramer.
“It is estimated that HPV causes up to 5% of all cancers and, with the NHS under pressure, the value of the prevention of ill-health is only increasing. The government and vaccine manufacturers should aim to roll the immunisation programme out to all boys as soon as possible.”