Offering men the same protection against cancer-causing HPV as women is a matter of justice, the Irish Cancer Society says.
The society welcomed the Health Information and Quality Authority’s (Hiqa) draft report on extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys.
Ensuring justice and non-discrimination must be at the centre of any decision to offer the vaccine to boys, it said.
Hiqa’s preliminary assessment on gender-neutral HPV vaccination was released for public consultation yesterday.
“The ethical argument to extend the vaccination programme to include boys centres on issues of justice, equity, non-discrimination and non-stigmatisation,” said the society.
Chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, Averil Power, said it is “only right” that the same protection is offered to both boys and girls.
“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,” she said. “This is clearly an injustice.”
Hiqa’s report states that extending the free vaccine to boys would cost an additional €10.4m 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.
Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said the public consultation on HPV vaccines for boys is welcome but must conclude quickly so the rollout of vaccines to boys can start as soon as possible.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the extension of the HPV programme to boys would be “prioritised” if the health technology assessment made a positive recommendation.
Last week, the body overseeing vaccination policy in Britain 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 the vaccine.
The vaccine is currently only offered to girls aged 12 to 13 in their first year of secondary school from the HSE’s National Immunisation Office.
Hiqa says gender-neutral vaccination would insulate the Irish population from significant movements of individuals in and out of the country.
It would provide protection to vulnerable groups not covered by the girls-only programme, such as men who have sex with men.
Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment and deputy chief executive, Máirín Ryan, said there are, on average, 539 cancer cases associated with HPV infection diagnosed every year in Ireland.
The cancers include cervical, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV infection is also responsible for genital warts, with 90% caused by HPV types that are included in the vaccine.
“No treatment exists for HPV infection, so the focus must be on preventing those at risk from acquiring the virus,” said Dr Ryan.
People have until September 7 to give feedback on the report before it is finalised and presented to the minister for health and the HSE.
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