HPV (human papilloma virus) is the name given to a large group of viruses that can be caught through sexual contact. Both men and women can carry the virus and, according to the NHS, it causes “almost all cases of cervical cancer”, which is why girls aged 12 to 13 are offered a vaccination in the UK. However, the virus has also been linked to other cancers that directly affect men, such as penile cancer, mouth, throat and anal cancers.
Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Professor Francis Vaz, a surgeon at University College London Hospital, explained he paid privately to vaccinate his three sons because: “I regularly see the bad end of that spectrum, so I thought the vaccination would be suitable for my sons. It’s just unfortunate it wasn’t available for them on the NHS. I was happy to pay for it because I think it’s a good vaccine.”
Tracie Miles, a gynaecological cancer nurse specialist at the Eve Appeal, told HuffPost UK she hopes people view the fact that some doctors are having their teenage sons vaccinated “as a positive action”, and that taking up this health initiative if and when it becomes available on the NHS is a “sensible option”.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum.com, also believes parents of boys should be offered the choice to get their sons vaccinated for free. “Innocculation only works effectively with ‘herd immunity’ when the majority of people at risk are vaccinated, but currently we are only protecting half the herd,” she said. “By extending the jab to boys, we can protect both boys in same sex relationships and those becoming sexually active with girls. Of course, no jab is risk-free and it should remain a parent - and teen’s choice - but the choice should be offered. Boys need HPV protection too.”
Doctors aren’t the only parents paying to get their sons vaccinated privately. The Terrence Higgins Trust has seen an increasing number of people doing so at high street chemists, according to the charity’s CEO Ian Green. “Parents are paying to protect their children from cancers because the NHS isn’t,” he wrote in a blog on HuffPost UK. “But this only adds to the existing inequality. There are many parents that don’t know about the vaccine or simply cannot afford it privately.”
Mary Ramsay head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE) told HuffPost UK: “The initial review of all the evidence so far by the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccination [JCVI] suggested that a boys HPV vaccination programme would not be cost-effective when uptake in adolescent girls is consistently high (over 85%)”. However, she added that recent results are showing that vaccinating boys is “now closer to the threshold of cost-effectiveness”, so the JCVI is currently looking into how they can make it cost-effective to offer the vaccine to boys on the NHS.
Miles says Eve Appeal is “delighted” to hear that the government is considering a vaccination programme that will cover both boys and girls. “We suggest that parents of young boys don’t feel alarmed at the potential extension of the vaccination programme to include their sons. It’s often the thought that having the vaccination encourages earlier sexual activity or the practice of unsafe sex, but we want to stress that the core aim of the vaccination programme is to protect against a few high-risk diseases.”
I want to pay to get my son vaccinated - what next?
In April 2017, Boots and Superdrug both announced they were make the HPV vaccine available to buy in their stores.
Boots announced it would be offering the vaccination to both men and women between the ages of 12-44 years old. The service for 12- to 14-year-olds costs £300 for a course of two vaccinations. Those aged 15 and over will need a series of three vaccinations, costing £450. Superdrug made vaccinations for nine to 26-year-olds available for £150 a dose at 62 of its branches.
The HPV vaccine is also available at a number of private clinics - such as Fleet Street Clinic, which was the first place to offer the vaccine privately in the UK - for a slightly higher price, at £185 per dose.