The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine is being offered to both boys and girls for the first time in the Republic. HSE vaccination teams are visiting secondary schools to offer the vaccine to all first year students.
First made available here to 12-year-old girls in 2010 with the prime purpose of reducing HPV-induced cervical cancer, making the vaccine gender neutral is an important statement of equality in healthcare. HPV causes cancer in areas of the body other than the cervix, including the anus, the penis and head and neck cancers. It is estimated that 85 per cent of anal cancers are attributable to HPV infections, while one half of head and neck cancers are caused by the virus.
More than 270 million doses have been administered worldwide with no evidence of long-term side-effects
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus. Up to 80 per cent of males and females will become infected by 50 years of age. No treatment exists for HPV infection; therefore the real prospect of its eradication by immunisation offers a significant health gain. This was recognised by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) when it recommended that HPV vaccine be offered to boys as well. "Extending the current girls-only HPV immunisation programme to include boys would reduce HPV-related disease in males and females in Ireland, improving patient-related outcomes and reducing mortality from HPV-related cancers," it says.
The extension of HPV immunisation to boys aged 12 to 13 is ethically welcome
A formal European Medicines Agency review into the HPV vaccine found it to be efficacious and safe. More than 270 million doses have been administered worldwide with no evidence of long-term side-effects in males or females. Boys and girls aged 12 to 13 will receive the first dose of the same vaccine providing protection against four types of HPV. A second dose six months later completes the immunisation programme.
About 100 women and 30 men die in Ireland each year from HPV-related cancers. Many of these cases can be prevented with gender-equal vaccination. The extension of HPV immunisation to boys aged 12 to 13 is ethically welcome; at an additional cost of €10.4 million over five years it represents a prudent use of public funds.