The Dentist Magazine.

No extension recommended for HPV vaccinations

Published: 28/07/2017

Many in the dental industry have condemned news that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has decided not to recommend an extension of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination to school age boys.

HPV has been linked to one in 20 cases of cancer in the UK. Health campaigners have called for a gender-neutral approach to vaccination, which would ensure 400,000 school-age boys are not left at risk.

Up to 80 per cent of sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives. Five per cent of all cancers are caused by HPV and some of these, notably oral cancers, are now rising sharply in incidence. HPV-related cancers, such as anal cancer, are also among the hardest to diagnose and treat.

A recent poll published by the campaign coalition HPV Action for World Immunisation Week (April 24-28), showed that 97 per cent of dentists backed expansion of the programme, with the same proportion saying if they had a son they would want them to receive the vaccination. Ninety-four per cent of GPs said they would support both positions.

This initial recommendation by JCVI will now be subject to a public consultation and the BDA will make representations to the committee urging them to reconsider the evidence before they make their final decision in October.

Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA, said, “HPV has emerged as the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers, so JCVI’s unwillingness to expand the vaccination programme to boys is frankly indefensible. The state has a responsibility to offer all our children the best possible defence.

“Dentists are on the front line in the battle against oral cancer, a condition with heart-breaking and life-changing results. Ministers can choose to sit this one out, or show they really believe in prevention.”

Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, commented, “This decision has been an incredibly long time coming and the outcome is one which is a completely unjust, unfair and discriminatory decision will cost lives.

“HPV is one of the leading causes of mouth cancer; without the vaccination programme we will continue to see cases rise when they could be completely prevented; it is a very, very sad decision which we will veraciously campaign to reverse.

“This decision is dangerously discriminatory and unfair and one which will leave millions of boys and men unprotected from the biggest sexually transmitted infection in the world.

“Since 2008, girls have been offered a HPV vaccination through a school based programme to protect against cervical cancer, but this has been proven to offer little protection for men from life-threatening diseases caused by HPV, including mouth, penile and anal cancers – especially in men who have sex with men.”

Peter Baker, campaign director at HPV Action, said, “It is astonishing that the government’s vaccination advisory committee has ignored advice from patient organisations, doctors treating men with HPV-related cancers, public health experts and those whose lives have been devastated by HPV.

“The decision not to vaccinate boys is about saving money not public health. HPV Action will continue to make the case for a national vaccination programme that protects men and women equally. There may also be grounds for a legal challenge on the grounds that the decision breaches equality law.”

Mick Horton, dean of FGDP(UK), said, “It is astonishing that the government’s vaccination advisory committee is planning to recommend that men are not given a level of immunity which the NHS already provides to women, and from a vaccine which it acknowledges is just as effective for men. The JCVI’s position will cost lives, and as it consults it should start listening to the dentists and doctors who see the devastation that HPV-related cancers wreak on patients and their families.”

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) is one of 47 patient and professional organisations participating in HPV Action, which advocates HPV vaccination for both boys and girls. Helen Minnery, president of BSHDT commented, “This is a lifesaving vaccine for both males and females and by only allowing females to be vaccinated, it is an act of discrimination.”