The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has begun a national public consultation on offering the HPV vaccine to boys.
Currently, the national immunisation programme offers the HPV vaccine to girls in their first year of secondary school.
Hiqa’s health technology assessment is reviewing the clinical and cost-effectiveness of extending this programme to include vaccinating boys in their first year of secondary school as well.
"HPV infection presents a significant and increasing health burden in both males and females, but currently only girls are offered the vaccine," said Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment and deputy chief executive.
"On average, 539 cases of cancer associated with HPV infection are diagnosed every year in Ireland, including cervical, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV infection is also responsible for genital warts, with 90% of these caused by HPV types that are included in the vaccine.
The draft findings of Hiqa’s report have been published for public consultation. The assessment found that vaccinating both boys and girls would have considerable health benefits.
"From reviewing the evidence, Hiqa has found that the HPV vaccine is safe and is effective at preventing infection with HPV," said Dr Ryan.
"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.
"Hiqa wants to hear the views of the Irish public on this draft report before it is finalised. Following this, a final report will be prepared for consideration by the Hiqa Board, before final recommendations are made to the Minister for Health."
Minister for Health Simon Harris has welcomed the public consultation process.
"I requested Hiqa to undertake this Health Technology Assessment, which will establish the clinical and cost-effectiveness of providing the vaccine to boys. This public consultation is an important part of the process and I encourage people to take this opportunity to give their views," said Minister Harris.
"This Government is supportive of the extension of the HPV programme to boys and it will be prioritised should the HTA make a positive recommendation.
"Cervical cancer impacts the lives of almost 7,000 women in Ireland every year. Vaccination teams will be returning to schools in September to administer the HPV vaccine to girls in first year and I encourage parents to ensure that their daughters receive this important life-saving vaccine."
Ensuring justice and non-discrimination must be at the centre of any decision to offer the HPV vaccine to boys, the Irish Cancer Society has said.
"When it comes to the health of our children, it is only right that we offer the same protections to both boys and girls," said Irish Cancer Society CEO, Averil Power.
"Each year in Ireland at least 420 men and women are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine is approved for use in boys and girls, but currently only girls are offered it for free under the national vaccination programme.
"Only boys whose families can afford to and choose to pay as much as €300 for the vaccine currently receive it through their GP, leaving many more unprotected. This is clearly an injustice."
Some 20 countries have now introduced the vaccination for boys, including Australia where the uptake rate is up to 90%. Last week the body overseeing vaccination policy in the UK strongly recommended that the free schools vaccination programme be extended to boys.
In Ireland, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has also recommended that boys receive this vaccine.
"The advent of the HPV vaccine means that one day we may be able to eliminate the cause of one in 40 cancer cases in Ireland, but this will only be possible if boys and girls are vaccinated," said Ms Power.
"According to Hiqa’s draft report, extending the free vaccine to boys would cost an additional €10.4 million over five years. The Irish Cancer Society believes that such a cost would be an extremely good use of public funds and would ultimately benefit Irish men and women for generations to come."
Hiqa invites members of the public to give feedback on the draft report until Friday, September 7.