RSPH welcomes the announcement that from September, boys aged 12-13 will for the first time receive the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine at the same age as girls. This will bring the vaccination programme in line with Scotland and Wales, while the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has already announced that they will also offer the vaccine to boys from September 2019.

HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection, with an estimated 70-80% of sexually active people becoming infected at some point in their lives. In most cases, the virus passes through the body without leading to disease; however, about 5% of all cancers worldwide are linked to HPV. This includes cervical, penile, anal and genital cancers and some cancers of the head and neck – all of which the vaccine helps to protect against. 

Girls in the UK have been routinely vaccinated against HPV since 2008, mostly via a schools-based programme. Boys, until now, have not been included in the immunisation schedule, despite also being susceptible to HPV-related illnesses, because it was thought that herd immunity would extend the protection to boys. However, this protection did not extend to men who have sex with men (MSM), who have a particularly high incidence of anal cancer, because they fall outside of the ‘herd’.

Research published by the Lancet last month found that after eight years of the vaccination programme in 14 countries, cases of HPV 16 and 18 fell by 83% in girls aged 15-19, while cases of genital warts in boys aged 15-19 were down by almost 50%. 

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health, said: “It is hugely welcome news, and a fantastic addition to our world leading vaccination programme, that all boys and girls across the UK will have equal access to the HPV vaccine from the beginning of the new school year. 

Evidence already shows that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, and potentially much longer. Building on the huge success of the girls’ programme, by making the HPV vaccination programme universal, we have the opportunity to make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past. 

It is vital that all parents of eligible boys and girls ensure take they take the opportunity to vaccinate their children and do not delay in doing so, as the vaccine may be less effective as adolescents get older.”