Female-only HPV vaccination leaves men exposed to cancers, study warns

Vaccinating girls against the HPV vaccine still leaves men 'at risk of cancers associated with the virus' despite a protective herd effect, researchers have warned.

HPV jab: research suggests expanding coverage to boys (Photo: Consolidated Scotland)
HPV jab: research suggests expanding coverage to boys (Photo: Consolidated Scotland)

A Danish study showed that vaccinating 90% of girls against the virus would cut incidence of anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers in men by 66% but leave a third of cancers unaffected, prompting calls for the UK to open up its vaccination programme to adolescent boys.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s official interim guidance acknowledges that HPV protection could ‘provide protection against anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers’, which would be considered as it reviewed its existing programme.

The current study suggests that, as data such as this becomes available, it may reconsider its stance on vaccinating boys. It is already investigating whether a programme vaccinating men who have sex with men would be cost-effective.

Consider vaccinating boys

If uptake in girls hits 90%, the researchers estimated that over 1,700 boys would have to be vaccinated to prevent one additional case of cancer. Uptake in girls was 87% in the UK in 2013/14.

Around 200 boys would need to be vaccinated to gain one quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), a measure of life quality used to assess value for money of a health intervention.

The authors, from VU University Amsterdam, said it was ‘appropriate’ for richer, developed countries, such as the UK, to consider vaccinating boys.

‘Inclusion of boys into pre-adolescent HPV vaccination programmes is warranted once the incremental costs of vaccination conform to society’s willingness to pay in comparison with the incremental health effects,’ they said.

They went on to add: ‘Protection of women should no longer be the sole public health objective of any HPV vaccination programme.’

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