Helen O’Callaghan says it’s vital boys are signed up for vaccine.
The view of James Paul O’Neill, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, as the HPV vaccine is offered for the first time this month to first year boys, as well as girls, in secondary schools: “A terrific development and a unique opportunity to protect both boys and girls from the benign and malignant implications of HPV infection.”
Ireland now joins over 20 other countries in giving HPV vaccine to boys and girls in the first year of secondary school.
With high uptake, the vaccine can save 112 lives annually by preventing the most common strains of HPV that cause cervical and other cancers — the vaccine protects against 90% of 10 HPV cancers.
HPV infection can cause cancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina in girls; in boys, cancers of the penis; and in boys and girls, cancers of the anus, throat, head and neck.
It can also cause genital warts in girls and boys.
“HPV is not gender-specific. It affects males and females. It’s common knowledge that it affects approximately 300-plus women a year with cervical cancer,” says Professor O’Neill, who cites a less well-known fact: between 2014-2018, oro-pharyngeal cancers rose 37% against 2009-2013.
“Of that increase, 50% was HPV-driven and, of that 50%, 80% were male.
Professor O’Neill says in the US, HPV-related oro-pharyngeal cancer has now surpassed cervical cancer — 14,000 men annually and 3,500 women are diagnosed with it.
Other benefits of adding boys to the HPV vaccine schedule include increased herd immunity.
The HSE estimates that 60,000 students, split evenly between boys and girls, will be offered the vaccine this month.
O’Neill says the “jury is very much in” when it comes to HPV vaccine safety.
“Multi-centre and multinational studies have proven it’s safe and highly effective. WHO, the European Medicines Agency and HIQA all [endorse] it.”
Dr Cillian De Gascun, consultant virologist at National Virus Reference Laboratory UCD, says more than 100m people have been vaccinated worldwide with no safety concerns or associations with any chronic illness.
Vaccine uptake has risen 20% since 2017, due largely to the late Laura Brennan’s campaign.