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'Zero excuse' that teenage boys should not get same access to free HPV vaccine as girls

Teenage girls can get the HPV vaccine if they’re still at secondary school – but teenage boys can’t.

Image: Shutterstock/CNK02

THE HSE AND Department of Health has been asked to provide a “catch-up” programme for teenage boys who missed out on a dose of the HPV vaccine administered in first year of secondary school.

A mother has questioned why her son, who is aged 13 and is in second-year, cannot avail of the vaccination programme even though the girls in his class can.

Despite Health Minister Simon Harris’ pledge for a “gender neutral HPV programme“,  teenage girls attending secondary school have access to the vaccination programme that boys do not.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the HSE said:

“Older girls who have left school and boys older than first year of second-level school are not eligible for the HSE HPV Vaccine programme. If they would like to be vaccinated, they can access this though a GP or other private provider of vaccinations.

Girls older than first year of second level school, who are still in school may re-join the HPV vaccine programme if they had previously missed out. They should contact their local school health team to make an appointment, details can be found here.

To get the HPV vaccine through a GP clinic costs €200 per dose, with two doses needed for teenagers under the age of 15, and three doses needed for those older than that. 

Under the State’s HPV vaccination programme, teenagers aged from 12 to 13 and in first year of school get the vaccination for free. The vaccination programme has been available for girls since 2010; this year, the programme was also rolled out for boys.

In response to a Parliamentary Question from Richard Boyd Barrett, Minister Simon Harris explained that since the vaccine is “preventative it is intended to be administered, if possible, before a person becomes sexually active”. 

He said that although a health technology assessment found that the HPV free vaccine should be rolled out to boys, that a catch-up programme was “not cost effective”. 

Inclusion of a catch-up programme for males in sixth year in school as part of a gender-neutral programme was not considered a cost-effective option and therefore not recommended.

The parent of a teenage boy in second year Anatte said that when it was first announced that the HPV vaccination programme would be extended to boys for the first time from this September, it was reported as being offered to 12- and 13-year-olds – so she thought her son would be included in that group.

It was later clarified that it was going to be for first-year students only, and that there wouldn’t be a catch-up programme for boys in second year or above.

“It doesn’t make sense – my son is the same age as the kids in first year,” she said.

“There’s no reason not to do it – they’ve a follow-up programme for girls. Girls who are in 6th year are getting it… The HSE has zero excuses not to provide it.” 

Administering the HPV vaccine to teenagers in secondary school is based on advice and research from the Immunisation Council which recommended that children aged from 12-13 benefit from the vaccine the most. It’s also easier for the programme to follow up and administer a second dose through the school system.

“I’m a microbiologist, a scientist, so I know how things can affect people in the future.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to undergo cancer treatment, but I do know the cost of these treatments is becoming much more expensive as they become more personalised. So €280 for the two vaccines for the boys is the cheaper option.”

There’s an election coming up – I won’t be voting for somebody who doesn’t push this through – its discriminatory and unfair and I don’t use those terms lightly.

Anatte said that a study in Australia looked at the rates of cervical cancer prior to the vaccine being administered and 10 years later, the rate of cervical cancer had dropped dramatically.

“Just because a child is vaccinated against measles doesn’t mean they won’t get measles, so just because a person is vaccinated against HPV it does not mean they won’t get HPV.

“The best way to avoid people getting HPV-related cancer is to vaccinate everybody. I’ve heard of how horrible esophageal cancer is – if I can prevent my child getting that down the line, I want him to get the vaccine.”

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