Calls for HPV catch-up programme
There is growing pressure for Northern Ireland authorities to offer a catch-up programme for older school boys after it was announced that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme is to be extended to male pupils aged 12 and 13.
That move, revealed in early April, brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. From September, the HPV vaccine will be offered to all boys in year nine at school – around 12,000 in total. The vaccine was originally offered as protection from cervical cancer.
Among others, BDA Northern Ireland is asking if the NI government will offer a catch-up programme to older school boys, in line with the approach followed across the UK when the vaccine was first rolled out to girls in 2008. More than 45,000 boys could miss out on coverage without a catch-up programme, at a time when uptake among girls is falling, further jeopardising the chance of ‘herd protection’.
“While Northern Ireland is the last UK administration to sign up to jabs for the boys, it still has a chance to show leadership”Roz McMullan
HPV has emerged as the leading cause of throat cancer, especially among young people. Oral (mouth and throat) cancer rates are predicted to double by 2035, and they are increasing more rapidly among men than women. The condition is linked to 5 per cent of all cancers worldwide, including some that affect only men.
Roz McMullan from the BDA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “Extending the HPV vaccination programme will save lives, and provide all our children with the best possible defence from this cancer-causing virus.
“Oral cancer now claims more lives than car accidents in Northern Ireland, and cases are skyrocketing. Dentists are on the front line in this battle, and we’ve fought hard to see prevention put into practice.
“While Northern Ireland is the last UK administration to sign up to jabs for the boys it still has a chance to show leadership. Commitment to a catch-up programme for over 45,000 older boys would send a clear signal that NI is willing to walk the walk on both equality and prevention.”