The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland calls for boys to get the HPV vaccine

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland is today calling for boys to be included in the HPV vaccination programme to provide further protection against HPV-related cancers and infections.

Ahead of an event to raise awareness about the opportunity to eliminate HPV-related cancers with Prof Ian Frazer, the co-inventor of the HPV vaccine, Professor Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and a Consultant in Infectious Diseases says extending the HPV vaccine programme to boys is essential and must be urgently introduced.

While the HPV vaccine is currently offered to girls to protect them against cervical cancer, it is essential that boys are also protected from cancers, such as those of the head and neck that are often caused by HPV infection. There is an approximate 20% increase in oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. Nearly 50% of this rise in oropharyngeal disease is directly related to HPV, with almost 80% of those occurring in men, yet there is little awareness of the risks to men.

Professor Mary Horgan

RCPI President

Recent research to gauge awareness of HPV-related infections and cancers in men found that about 60% of Irish adults are aware that it can affect both men and women. And worryingly 87% believe they have never been exposed to the virus,“ Prof Horgan said.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has organised an event to inform healthcare professionals about the opportunity we have to eliminate HPV related cancers on July 9th next, that includes an update from Prof Frazer, who administered the first dose of the vaccine in Australia in 2006. He predicts that due to a comprehensive vaccination programme, including boys and girls, that the HPV virus will be effectively eradicated in Australia over a 20-year period.

Prof Frazer will receive an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in tribute to his pioneering work to eliminate the HPV virus.

We have put together a programme that focusses on the importance of vaccination, the adoption of HPV testing to detect cervical cancer in the future with input from Laura Brennan and Emily Hourican, two powerful advocates for the HPV vaccine.

Dr Corinna Sadlier, Consultant in Infectious Diseases who will speak at this event about the case for gender neutral vaccination, says that as the burden of HPV-related disease is shared by both males and females and that boys should also be offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine.

Unvaccinated boys remain at risk from a range of serious HPV associated diseases that could be prevented by the HPV vaccine. Provision of HPV vaccine for girls only will not fully protect boys and represents a significant health inequality that must be urgently addressed

Dr Corinna Sadlier

Consultant in Infectious Diseases, Cork University Hospital

While progress has been made in increasing HPV vaccine uptake rates in girls in Ireland which will confer some indirect protection to boys, we will not get to a point of elimination of this potentially serious infection without a rollout of vaccination and provision of direct protection to boys also” Dr Sadlier says. “Parents need to inform themselves about the risks associated with HPV infection in boys by asking their GPs and referring to reliable websites, such as the World Health Organisation and accredited HSE websites.”

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. It affects 8 out of 10 people (80%), both male and female at some point during their lives, but the majority of them will not have any symptoms and will clear the virus spontaneously.

The virus can cause genital warts in others while persistent infection with certain HPV types can cause cancer of the cervix, cancer of the mouth and throat as well as other genital cancers, such as vaginal, vulval, penile, and anal cancers. It is estimated that HPV infection is responsible for up to 5% of all cancers worldwide.

Over 200 million doses of the HPV vaccine, have been given globally. The HPV vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in both males and females. Some 20 countries have now introduced the vaccination for boys, including Australia where the uptake rate is up to 90%. In Ireland, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that boys receive this vaccine.

The Programme for An Opportunity to Eliminate HPV Cancers is here . This event is open to the media.