Parents want the HPV vaccine for their sons – new research

April 12, 2018 by Sue Sherman, The Conversation
HPV causes a range of cancers, including cervical, penile, anal and throat cancer. Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock.com

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that causes diseases that affect both men and women. In the UK, girls are vaccinated against HPV but boys are not.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Two of the low risk types (six and 11) cause more than 90% of genital warts. Other high risk types of HPV (especially 16 and 18) can cause cervical, vulval, vaginal, head, neck and throat, anal and penile cancers. While the incidence of cervical cancer in the UK has fallen since the 1990s, thanks to the NHS cervical screening programme, the incidence of those cancers that affect both men and women is on the rise.

More than 80% of sexually active people will be exposed to HPV in their lifetime. Genital HPV infection is spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas. Wearing a condom reduces the risk of infection but does not provide complete protection. Once a person has been infected, their immune system will fight the virus and, in most cases, the virus will have no ill effects. But, for some people, the virus will progress to cause warts or cancer.

Since 2008, 12- and 13-year-old girls in most of the UK (11 to 13 in Scotland) have been offered the chance to be vaccinated against HPV via a school-based programme. In a phased rollout from April 2018, men aged 45 or younger who have sex with men will be offered the HPV vaccination in England at sexual health clinics and HIV clinics, bringing England in line with the rest of the UK. But boys are not likely to be offered the HPV vaccine any time soon.

Too little, too late

One rationale for not vaccinating boys is that if enough girls are vaccinated (currently, around 85% of girls have the necessary two doses in England), this provides "herd immunity" to men, meaning that if women don't have the virus, men will not be able to catch it either.

The main problem with the herd immunity argument, when it is girls rather than boys who are vaccinated, is that it doesn't provide protection for men who have sex with men, or for men who have sex with unvaccinated women – for example, women from countries without a vaccination programme, or who are too old to have been eligible for the vaccination.

Men who have sex with men are particularly vulnerable to HPV-related anal cancer. Although they can now opt to have the vaccination, it is too little, too late.

The HPV vaccination is most effective when it is given before exposure to the virus (before sexual activity starts), and also when it is given before puberty, when immune systems are able to provide a stronger antibody response.

Gender-neutral vaccination has wide support among the medical community with professional organisations such as the British Dental Association and The Faculty of Public Health favouring vaccination for both boys and girls.

Survey results

It is not just professionals who want to see the vaccination extended to boys. A recent Wellcome-funded survey of 186 parents of teenage boys in North Staffordshire that we conducted found that many of the parents were not aware of the health consequences of HPV for men. The research, published in PLOS ONE, revealed that once they were provided with this information, however, most parents wanted the to be available to their sons.

Several countries vaccinate both girls and boys against HPV, including the US, Canada, Austria, Australia and New Zealand. It is unacceptable, as society strives for equality in so many areas, that the UK should not extend the protection afforded by the HPV vaccination to boys as well as .

Explore further: Many doctors don't push HPV shots equally. See who's left out

Related Stories

Many doctors don't push HPV shots equally. See who's left out

March 26, 2018
(HealthDay)—Teen boys in the United States are less likely than girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) because many doctors don't recommend the shots to boys' parents, researchers say.

Why we should vaccinate boys against HPV as well as girls

July 30, 2014
Gillian Prue, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University of Belfast, says that the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is common in men and can lead to genital warts and the development of some head and ...

Men benefit from vaccinating girls against HPV but remain at risk of some cancers

May 12, 2015
Men benefit indirectly from vaccinating girls against human papillomavirus (HPV), but remain at risk of cancers associated with the virus, finds a study from The Netherlands published in The BMJ this week.

More U.S. teens getting vaccinated against HPV

August 24, 2017
(HealthDay)—Six out of 10 U.S. parents are choosing to get their children vaccinated against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread by sexual contact, federal health officials reported Thursday.

HPV-vaccinated women protect men from infection

August 4, 2016
A Melbourne study has found the first evidence of 'herd protection' from vaccinations against the cervical cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).

New study shows HPV vaccine is reducing rates of genital warts

March 29, 2017
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in Australia in 2007 and New Zealand in 2008 to prevent cervical cancer. It was free for women up to age 26 in Australia and to all women under 20 in New Zealand. This ...

Recommended for you

Mediterranean diet boosts beneficial bacteria

April 25, 2018
Here's another reason to eat a Mediterranean-type diet: It's good for your gut.

Consuming protein supplements with meals may work better for weight control

April 25, 2018
A new systematic review of available evidence appearing in Nutrition Reviews indicates that consuming protein supplements with meals may be more effective at promoting weight control than consuming supplements between meals ...

Potential for sun damage should be carefully balanced with need for vitamin D in children, say scientists

April 24, 2018
Scientists at King's College London are encouraging parents and carers to ensure even more rigorous protection of children against the harmful effects of the sun. The comments follow a study which has suggested that children ...

Drinking affects mouth bacteria linked to diseases

April 24, 2018
When compared with nondrinkers, men and women who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day had an overabundance of oral bacteria linked to gum disease, some cancers, and heart disease. By contrast, drinkers had fewer bacteria ...

Millennials aren't getting the message about sun safety and the dangers of tanning

April 24, 2018
Many millennials lack knowledge about the importance of sunscreen and continue to tan outdoors in part because of low self-esteem and high rates of narcissism that fuel addictive tanning behavior, a new study from Oregon ...

People expect their memory to fade as early as their 50s

April 24, 2018
People across the UK expect their memory to worsen in their 50s, according to new research from Heriot-Watt University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.