19 Jul 2017

The decision by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) today to deny boys a vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has been condemned by a leading oral health charity.

The Oral Health Foundation believes the decision, which has been under consideration since 2013, will lead to many thousands of lives being lost to HPV-related cancers which the introduction of the vaccination would have protected against.

Under the current programme almost 400,000 boys go unvaccinated every year, which leaves them at risk of developing HPV-related cancers, many of which are on the increase.

Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, discussed the appalling ruling: "This decision has been an incredibly long time coming and the outcome is one which is a completely unjust, unfair and discriminatory decision will cost lives.

"HPV is one of the leading causes of mouth cancer; without the vaccination programme we will continue to see cases rise when they could be completely prevented, it is a very, very sad decision which we will veraciously campaign to reverse. 

"This decision is dangerously discriminatory and unfair and one which will leave millions of boys and men unprotected from the biggest sexually transmitted infection in the world.

"Since 2008, girls have been offered a HPV vaccination through a school based programme to protect against cervical cancer, but this has been proven to offer little protection for men from life-threatening diseases caused by HPV; including mouth, penile and anal cancers, especially in men who have sex with men."

Statistics from Cancer Research UK show the number of people diagnosed with mouth cancer have soared by a third in Britain, much of this increase can be attributed to HPV infections and its transmission to the mouth through oral sex.

Every year, more than 7,000 Brits are diagnosed with mouth cancer, with the disease claiming in excess of 2,000 lives - more than testicular and cervical cancer combined.

"It has become very apparent that the only certain way to protect boys effectively from HPV is through a national vaccination programme," adds Dr Carter.

"HPV vaccinations for boys has been rejected and we will continue to see half of our population face substantial risk from diseases which will ultimately claim thousands of lives. It is moral and ethical abhorrent to withhold a vaccination that could ultimately save lives."

It is estimated that HPV cancers make up 5% of all cancers. 

Vaccinating boys from HPV has been projected to cost £20-22 million - a figure that is dwarfed by the cost of treating HPV-related cancers and genital warts, which is also caused by the same strain of the virus.

The cost of treating anogenital warts alone in the UK is an estimated £58.44 million a year. The secondary care costs of treating HPV-related mouth and other oral cancers is likely to exceed £21 million a year, with a further £7 million currently spent on treating men with anal cancer.

A recent poll from campaign group HPV Action discovered that 97% of dentists and 94% of GPs believe that the national HPV vaccination programme should cover both boys and girls. HPV jabs for boys has also received public support of 84%. 

HPV Action, a collaborative partnership of 47 patient and professional organisations that advocates HPV vaccination for both boys and girls, have also spoken out about the decision.

Peter Baker, HPV Action Campaign Director, said: "It is astonishing that the government's vaccination advisory committee has ignored advice from patient organisations, doctors treating men with HPV-related cancers, public health experts and those whose lives have been devastated by HPV.

"The decision not to vaccinate boys is about saving money not public health. HPV Action will continue to make the case for a national vaccination programme that protects men and women equally. There may also be grounds for a legal challenge on the grounds that the decision breaches equality law."