All teenage boys and young men between the ages of 13 and 24 should be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination on the NHS, a charity has warned.
More than a million boys will miss out on the potentially life-saving jab, the Teenage Cancer Trust says, as currently only 11 to 13-year-old boys are given it for free.
The TCT says extending the programme to all teenagers and young adults will ensure there is not a “missing generation” who are at risk of HPV-related cancers developing in adulthood.
For the first time this year all boys aged 11-13 are being given the vaccine alongside girls of the same age (girls aged 12 and 13 have been given the two-stage vaccine on the NHS since 2008).
The vaccine protects against four types of HPV: HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18. There are more than 200 types of HPV, and the 13 HPV types linked to cancer are called high-risk HPV.
The success of the female programme has seen cervical cancer rates drop so drastically, that scientists predict it could be “eliminated” within decades. This led to the rollout for young boys – but those in the years above are still missing out. They are only able to access the vaccine for £150 per dose (there are two doses).
A catch-up programme for older school years was offered to girls when it was rolled out, but the same is not currently planned for boys.
“A generation of teenage boys and young men are being denied that chance..."”
TCT chief executive Kate Collins says the vaccine should be made available for free on the NHS to all men and boys up to the age of 25 who want it.
“While it’s great some boys from this year onwards will have the same protection against HPV-related cancers that teenage girls and women have had for a decade, a generation of teenage boys and young men are being denied that chance,” she said.
“Parents of school-age boys may well find one child will get the HPV vaccine for free, whereas an older son will only be protected if they can afford to pay for it. That simply isn’t fair.”
The charity said the assumption boys will have a reduced risk of infection through the immunity of some girls and women was “false”. Collins says: “Not vaccinating older teenage boys puts them at risk as it relies on the false presumption they will only have sexual partners who don’t have HPV.”
She added that it would serve to undermine the UK’s progress so far.
Research from TCT found 75% of teenage boys and young men aged 13 to 24 would want to be vaccinated against HPV if it was offered to them for free.
But 46% said they would remain unvaccinated if they had to pay, with only a third willing to pay for the vaccine, the charity said.
World Health Organisation [WHO] figures estimate worldwide that HPV types 16 and 18 cause about 5% of all cancers, it added.
TCT is also concerned about low awareness of HPV, particularly in boys, and its known links to a range of cancers. It found almost one in three teenagers and young adults said they have not heard of HPV.
Of those teenagers and young adults who thought the HPV vaccinations protected people from infections that can cause cancer, 50% believed it is only effective for girls and women, the charity added.