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Should we extend the HPV vaccine to boys? Public asked to give their views

The government is in favour of extending the free HPV vaccine scheme to school boys.

Image: Shutterstock/MR . JOE 666

A PUBLIC CONSULTATION has commenced to gather the views of various stakeholders on whether the free HPV vaccine scheme should be extended to boys.

HPV is very common virus or infection, and is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Most HPV infections have no noticeable symptoms and over 90% are cleared by the body’s immune system.

However, in some cases HPV can be a precursor to pre-cancerous cells, which can lead to a number of cancers including cervical cancer.

Although both boys and girls can contract HPV, it’s been the approach to make the HPV vaccine available for free to girls of school-going age. If a high enough number of girls are vaccinated against the virus, that in turn would also protect boys from contracting it (in the heterosexual community).

But because of the spread of rumours and anecdotes about the vaccine on social media, the vaccine uptake rate plummeted from 87% in 2014 to 51% in 2017, leading to the HSE to launch a campaign to inform students and parents about the benefits of the vaccine.

The Department of Health and HSE have now been urged to extend the scheme to boys as well, given that the rates of update have plummeted.

In the UK, it was announced that the vaccine will be given to 13 and 14 year old boys from the 2019/2020 school year, according to the BBC.

“I want to extend the HPV vaccine to boys,” Minister for Health Simon Harris said in a tweet this morning.

“I’m grateful to HIQA for the work it has undertaken on this at my request. Have your say between now and the start of September on the assessment on this important issue.”

The Health Information and Quality Authority has commenced the public consultation – it will continue until 7 September.

The HPV scheme

Currently, the national immunisation programme offers the HPV vaccine to girls in their first year of secondary school, with a second dose in the following 6 months.

If a family decide against taking the vaccine, but change their mind at a later date, you can still request to have the vaccine as long as the girl is still at school.

Hiqa is reviewing the clinical and cost-effectiveness of extending this programme to include vaccinating boys in their first year of secondary school as well.

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s Director of Health Technology Assessment and Deputy Chief Executive, said that on average, 539 cases of cancer associated with HPV infection are diagnosed every year in Ireland.

[These include] cervical, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV infection is also responsible for genital warts, with 90% of these caused by HPV types that are included in the vaccine.

“No treatment exists for HPV infection, so the focus must be on preventing those at risk from acquiring the virus.”

 

Dr Ryan also addressed fears that people may have about the safety of the vaccine, based on rumours and anecdotal evidence, as well as a strong push on social media against the vaccine.

“From reviewing the evidence, Hiqa has found that the HPV vaccine is safe and is effective at preventing infection with HPV.

“Extending the current girls-only HPV immunisation programme to include boys would reduce HPV-related disease in males and females in Ireland, improving patient-related outcomes and reducing mortality from HPV-related cancers.”

“HIQA wants to hear the views of the Irish public on this draft report before it is finalised. Following this, a final report will be prepared for consideration by the HIQA Board, before final recommendations are made to the Minister for Health.”

Minister Harris added: ”Cervical cancer impacts the lives of almost 7,000 women in Ireland every year.

Vaccination teams will be returning to schools in September to administer the HPV vaccine to girls in first year and I encourage parents to ensure that their daughters receive this important life-saving vaccine.

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