Boys set to get HPV vaccine
Boys aged 12 and 13 years will be vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV) from next year under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
This new initiative, announced by the Australian Government recently, includes ongoing vaccination in one cohort (year 7 as given to girls) and a 2-year catch up program for boys aged 14 and 15 years of age in year 9.
Australia was one of the first countries to implement a national HPV vaccination program for females in 2007. The HPV vaccine protects against the 4 strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers.
The benefits of offering the HPV vaccine to boys are likely to be substantial.
Since vaccination in females was introduced, the number of women in the vaccination age group presenting with cytologic lesions – potential precursors of cervical cancer – has declined.
There is considerable evidence that most men who get HPV (of any type) never develop symptoms or health problems. This is concerning because some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause cancers of the penis, anus, or oropharynx (back of the throat, including base of the tongue and tonsils).
Transmission of anogenital HPV occurs primarily through sexual contact.
Some men are more likely to develop HPV-related diseases than others, for example, gay and bisexual men (who have sex with other men) are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who have sex only with women.
Men who are immunocompromised, including those who have HIV, are more likely than other men to develop anal cancer. Men with HIV are also more likely to get severe cases of genital warts that are harder to treat.
Currently, there is no HPV test recommended for men. The only approved HPV tests on the market are designed to screen women for cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) works by preventing 4 common HPV types – 2 that cause most genital warts and 2 that cause cancers, including anal cancer. The vaccine protects against new HPV infections but does not cure existing HPV infections or disease (like genital warts). It is most effective when given before a person's first sexual contact.
The HPV vaccine is safe, effective and has no serious side effects. Soreness in the arm post vaccination, which resolves in a few days, is the most common side effect.
It is estimated that a quarter of all new HPV infections can be prevented by extending the vaccination program to boys. Thus, offering the HPV vaccine to boys in the school program offers the greatest long-term protection for both boys and girls (preventing cervical cancer in their female partners) as vaccination will eliminate the risks associated with HPV infection in older life and increase herd immunity.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Australian Immunisation Handbook 9th Edition 2008.
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention HPV and Men-Fact Sheet