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Wednesday’s (19th July) announcement from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) was disappointing. We heard that not only has a final decision on extending the HPV vaccination to boys not been made, but that the committee is unable to recommend an extension based on cost-effectiveness. The vaccine provides protection against strains of HPV which can cause cancers in both women AND men, therefore by extending the vaccine to boys we have a real opportunity to reduce the cancer risk of future generations.
Across the UK, cancer diagnoses are increasing and potentially one in two of us will be directly be affected at some time in our lives. Extending the current vaccination programme to boys would seem to provide an opportunity to reduce diagnoses, save vital NHS costs and of course ultimately save lives.
We fully accept that the current vaccination programme can provide males some protection against HPV through herd immunity, though this does not benefit men who have sex with men or with unvaccinated women. One positive of the interim review, was to see that the Committee recognises arguments made on the issue of equality and as a result has referred this to the Department of Health for consideration. I believe an inequality does exist whereby the same protection offered to girls is not available for boys causing a potential health inequality over future cancer risk. The opening of a consultation to enable a final decision to be reached gives some hope.
We are incredibly lucky to have a vaccination programme available to girls in the UK. The vaccine protects against 70% of cervical cancers providing young women with significant protection against a disease which currently claims 2 lives every day in the UK. It is important that we do not forget this and do not lose sight of trying to increase uptake and awareness among girls. While uptake is high, it has fallen in the last year and there is significant variation across the country. So it is essential that this must remain a priority.
Research has shown that by 2030 we could see a two thirds reduction in incidence of cervical cancer in women under 30, which is really quite amazing. The impact of the vaccine has been backed up by resent research from Scotland that has shown a 90% decrease in high risk HPV among women have been vaccinated. This is extremely encouraging and firmly supports our vision of a future where cervical cancer will be a disease of the past.
In addition to increasing uptake of the vaccine, it is just as important that people understand what the vaccine is for, this means knowing what HPV is and its link to cancer. Through our research we know that knowledge and understanding surrounding HPV is low, there are also many myths, some of which we have tackled in a previous blog. These need addressing so that individuals are fully informed and able to make appropriate choices about their health.
There is lots to do. However Jo's will continue to increase awareness of HPV and the vaccine and we would hope to see a gender-neutral vaccination being made available as soon as possible to ensure that we really are taking every step to improve and protect the health of generations to come.