Extend HPV vaccine to boys, says Hiqa assessment

Simon Harris says proposal will be given priority if approved by final health body report

Minister for Health Simon Harris and participants in a campaign for the HPV vaccine in August 2017. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris and participants in a campaign for the HPV vaccine in August 2017. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Extending the HPV vaccine to boys would have health benefits for the wider population, the State health watchdog has said.

The vaccine protects against several strains of the human papilloma virus, which causes seven out of 10 types of cervical cancer. The HPV infection can also cause vaginal, vulvar, anal and penile cancer.

On Tuesday the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) released a draft assessment on extending the vaccine to boys in their first year of secondary school. The report’s preliminary conclusions said vaccinating both boys and girls “may potentially improve vaccine resilience”.

However, a final recommendation on the proposal will be made by Hiqa after a period of public consultation. The watchdog’s recommendation is expected before the end of the year.

Welcoming the initial report, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Government would give priority to extending the HPV vaccination programme should there be a positive recommendation.

Mr Harris said the health technology assessment would establish the clinical and cost-effectiveness of providing the vaccine to boys.

“I am encouraged to hear the Hiqa assessment has found that vaccinating both boys and girls would have considerable health benefits and that it reiterates that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing infection with HPV,” Mr Harris said.

Hiqa’s initial findings said extending the vaccine to boys would “provide protection to vulnerable groups,” such as men who have sex with men. “It would also ensure our programme is resilient to future changes in female uptake rate,” the report said.

There are on average 539 cases of HPV-associated cancer diagnosed in Ireland each year, three -quarters of which relate to women, with cervical cancer the most common HPV-associated cancer.

“This public consultation is an important part of the process, and I encourage people to take this opportunity to give their views. This Government is supportive of the extension of the HPV programme to boys and it will be prioritised should the health technology assessment make a positive recommendation,” Mr Harris said.

The Minister said cervical cancer affected the lives of almost 7,000 women in Ireland every year.

“Vaccination teams will be returning to schools in September to administer the HPV vaccine to girls in first year, and I encourage parents to ensure that their daughters receive this important life-saving vaccine,” he said.

Uptake

The uptake in the HPV vaccine increased from 50 to 61 per cent last year, following a large drop in the number of young girls availing of the vaccine previously.

In the 2014/15 school year 87 per cent of girls aged 12 to 13 received the vaccine, which fell dramatically to 50 per cent in 2016/17.

Provisional Health Service Executive (HSE) figures from last autumn show the downward trend has been reversed, following a large information campaign addressing concerns around the vaccine.

The Regret Support Group is the main organisation in Ireland campaigning against Gardasil, one HPV vaccine used by the HSE. The group represent the families of several young girls who claim they developed health conditions and side effects such as chronic fatigue after receiving the treatment.

Mr Harris and the HSE have said there is no link to between the vaccine and reported side effects such as chronic fatigue syndrome, and the illnesses experienced by the girls can develop around the same age they receive the vaccine.

Hiqa’s health assessment said the “overwhelming conclusion” was that a large volume of evidence “demonstrates the overall safety of HPV vaccines”.

Labour Party TD Alan Kelly has been pushing for the vaccine to be rolled out to boys, which he said would be a “common-sense, evidence-based measure, which is already in place in countries like Australia”.

Members of the public can make submissions to Hiqa on the draft report up until September 7th.