Irish health experts plan to make HPV vaccines accessible to boys

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) is currently considering making the HPV vaccine available to boys.

HPV (human papilloma virus) causes cervical cancer in women. Other cancers associated with the virus affect both men and women, including anal, genital and throat cancers. The virus can also cause genital warts in both woman and men.

Over 200,000 girls have been vaccinated since it was introduced. The vaccine has been available to girls since 2010 and prevents them from developing cervical cancer later in life. It is free and readily available from the HSE for all girls in the first year of secondary school. 

HIQA’s Director of Health Technology Assessment and Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Máirín Ryan, said on the HIQA website: “HPV infection is the most commonly acquired sexually transmitted viral infection. In most cases, it causes no symptoms and is cleared by the body’s immune system. However, persistent infection can lead to the development of cancer."

Dr Ryan continued: “The HPV vaccine has been proven to be safe. Additionally, it is highly effective at preventing infection with the HPV types most commonly linked with cancer and genital warts in both men and women.

"This HTA will investigate the clinical and cost-effectiveness of expanding the HPV vaccination programme to include boys, thereby extending them the opportunity to benefit from the vaccine and increasing HPV immunity in the wider population.

”HIQA’s assessment will also consider the wider implications of any proposed change to the vaccination programme, such as the budget impact, use of resources, and the ethical and societal implications.”

The vaccine has been available to both sexes in Australia since 2006, and has been linked with a 90 percent reduction in cases of genital warts in both sexes.

Last year, the vaccine was made available to gay men in Ireland.

The results of the health technology assessment are expected next year.

In May, the Irish Cancer Society wrote about the huge benefits of the vaccine. Dr Robert O'Connor, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, said: “Young women and girls who have received the HPV vaccination are fully protected against the strains of HPV that cause seven in ten of all cervical cancers.   

“It is important to note that, while significantly less likely to develop cervical cancer, availing of cervical screening – whether that is through the HPV test or the current liquid-based cytology process – is still recommended for these women so that any signs of the cancer can be spotted early and treated before they become a threat to their lives."