The Oral Health Foundation welcomes a new report from the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) as part of its inquiry into cancer prevention.

The HSCC stated that while fantastic progress” had been made in preventing cancers through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme, more action must be taken to help improve and maintain vaccination uptake.

The HPV vaccination protects people against head and neck cancers, including mouth cancer. It also prevents cervical, anal and penile cancers, as well as genital warts.

Following the HSCC report, the Oral Health Foundation is highlighting the need to improve HPV vaccination rates and is calling for catch-up opportunities for those who missed out during the pandemic.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: “It has been clear from the statistics during Covid that thousands of young people have missed out on having this life-saving vaccination.

“It is incredibly important that these children are caught up quickly with their vaccinations, to provide them with the protection they need.

“Those who have missed out are eligible up until their 25th birthday to receive the jab for free on the NHS and should contact their GP to arrange it. I urge parents to book it for their children, HPV increases the likelihood of many different cancers including cervical, head and neck cancers.”

The HSCC report supports previous findings from research by the Oral Health Foundation and Portman Dental Care, which found uptake of the HPV vaccine in English schools plummeted during COVID-19. Figures in the aftermath of the pandemic showed that more than 130,000 children went without a single dose of the vaccine, leaving them at risk of deadly cancers and dangerous diseases.

The committee concluded that while there is a clear need for national oversight, local systems have the best knowledge of challenges in their area. The NHS England strategy must “empower local leaders to pursue ways of addressing uptake in their areas,” with Integrated Care System leaders being supported to step up and take ownership of this work.

The report also touched on the key role that NHS England will play in developing the National strategy for vaccination. England did not reach the 95% target for any routine childhood immunisations in 2021/22.

“Reaching a majority of immunisation in the population is vital to eradicating the danger of any virus,” adds Dr Carter. “As stated in the report, the incredible success of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout showed what can be achieved with a mission-based attitude from the Government, which involved making it as easy as possible for everybody to receive the vaccine.”

HPV cancers in Europe are rising and are thought to be the main reason why mouth cancer cases in the UK have more than doubled within the last generation.

Girls in England have received the HPV vaccine since 2008, while the programme was extended to boys in 2019.

In a recent set of recommendations, England will move from a two-dose HPV vaccination programme, down to one-dose. Following robust evidence, experts determined that one dose of the HPV vaccine provides an equal level of protection compared with a second dose.