Why boys need a jab for cervical cancer: Only then will girls be totally protected, say experts

(DailyMail/UK)  –  Health campaigners say boys should receive the cervical cancer vaccine to help protect girls

Boys should be vaccinated against the sexual infection which causes cervical cancer because so few girls have had the jab that protects against it, say campaigners.

Even though boys cannot get cervical cancer, they can contract the human papillomavirus which causes 70 per cent of cases – and pass it on to girls.

Ministers want all girls between the ages of 12 and 18 to be given the jab over the next three years.

But latest figures show only 73 per cent of girls aged 12 and 13 had received the first two of the doses of the vaccine by this January.

Among 17 and 18-year-olds – the other group to be targeted so far in the Government’s campaign – only 22 per cent have had two doses, largely because it is harder to reach girls when they have left school.

The number of girls having the third and final dose is likely to be even lower.

Ministers say the jab will eventually save 700 lives a year by stopping more women getting cervical cancer in middle age.

But experts fear take-up has been hit because parents fear the vaccine – dubbed the ‘promiscuity jab’ – will encourage their daughters to have sex younger.

There have also been concerns over possible side-effects.

Dr Anne Szarewski, from Cancer Research UK, said widespread immunity can only be guaranteed if boys aged 12 to 18 are also vaccinated – a programme which would cost £600million.

Speaking at a women’s health conference in London, reported in GP magazine, she said it was ‘very likely that boys would be vaccinated sometime down the line’.

Dr Szarewski, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said giving both sexes the jab would boost uptake by removing the stigma. This was especially true among ethnic minorities, where there can be pressure not to vaccinate girls against a sexually-transmitted infection.

Professor John Oxford, a virology expert at St Bart’s hospital in London, said: ‘It makes sense to do boys as well as girls, because after all if girls are going to get infected it’s going to come from a man.

‘We’ve been through all this with rubella, when originally only girls were vaccinated.

‘But the number of outbreaks were not knocked on the head. So we followed the example of other countries and started to vaccinate both sexes. With HPV, we should do both sexes and get them early.

‘The Jade Goody case has shown what a devastating effect this cancer can have.’

Last year Dr Paul Yeo, a virologist at Durham University, said that because it was not known how long the immunity offered by the jab will last, women could become vulnerable to HPV infection in their 20s.

Any decision on whether to give boys the jab would be made following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. It is understood it is not yet considering giving the jab to boys. Robert Music, director of cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust, said: ‘For now the focus has to be ensuring that all young women eligible for the HPV programme are vaccinated and thus protected against 70 per cent of all cervical cancers.’

Jackie Fletcher of Jabs, a support group for those affected by vaccinations, said: ‘The only people who will benefit from this are the pharmaceutical companies who know it would be very lucrative if boys as well as girls were to have the jab.’

A Department of Health spokesman said ministers were not yet considering jabs for boys.

Last July the Health Protection Agency, the safety watchdog, concluded that vaccinating boys would not be cost-effective.

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