On International HPV Awareness Day (4 March 2019), HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is calling for an HPV vaccination catch-up programme to be rolled out for boys in England and Wales.

Last year it was announced that boys aged 12 and 13 will now be vaccinated alongside girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to cause preventable cancers including anal, oral and neck cancer. This is set to begin from September 2019.

However, a catch-up programme for those above 13 years old has been ruled out by governments in England and Wales, despite this being available for girls when the programme was implemented in 2008.

In the UK each year, HPV causes around 1,400 head and neck cancers, 350 penile cancers, and nearly 400 anal cancers. Gay and bisexual men are at higher risk of HPV infection and 15 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men. 

It is argued that boys are protected by girls being vaccinated against HPV, but this goes against the reasons for introducing the programme for boys. So-called ‘herd immunity’ doesn’t protect boys who are gay or bisexual, or those who have sex with girls who have not been vaccinated or are from outside the UK. 

HPV also causes genital warts – rates of which have been dramatically cut since the introduction of the programme for girls over a decade ago. 

Alex Phillips, HPV lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘While we celebrate on International HPV Awareness Day the fact that HPV vaccinations will be offered to boys aged 12 and 13 in schools across England and Wales from September of this year, the fight isn’t over.

‘We are still pushing for an HPV catch-up programme for boys aged up to 18 years old. The argument from Health Ministers in both England and Wales for not introducing a boys catch-up programme is due to existing herd immunity from the girls programme – which goes contrary to the fundamental reason why a boys programme was needed.

‘Both the UK and Welsh Governments must urgently implement this decision to ensure all boys are vaccinated as soon as possible, in a programme that should be made available alongside the existing girls’ immunisation programme in schools.’