Members of the public are being encouraged to have their say on whether the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine should be offered to boys as well as girls.
HPV is a family of common viruses that are passed on via sexual contact. There are many types of HPV, most of which are harmless and go away on their own. However, some strains can be serious, such as those that cause certain types of cancer and pre-cancerous lesions.
For example, HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, which kills around 90 women in Ireland every year.
In an effort to combat this, the HSE offers the HPV vaccination to girls in their first year of secondary school. However, 80% of both men and women will get some type of HPV in their lives and currently in Ireland, 27% of all HPV-related cancer diagnoses occur in men.
In response to this, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, requested the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to undertake a health technology assessment in this area. The assessment will review the clinical and cost-effectiveness of extending this programme to include boys in their first year of secondary school.
"HPV infection presents a significant and increasing health burden in both males and females, but currently only girls are offered the vaccine. On average, 539 cases of cancer associated with HPV infection are diagnosed every year in Ireland, including cervical, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV infection is also responsible for genital warts, with 90% of these caused by HPV types that are included in the vaccine," explaned HIQA's deputy chief executive, Dr Mairin Ryan.
She pointed out that as no treatment exists for HPV infection, ‘the focus must be on preventing those at risk from acquiring the virus'.
A draft report on this issue has already been published by HIQA and it found that vaccinating both boys and girls would have offer major health benefits.
"From reviewing the evidence, HIQA has found that the HPV vaccine is safe and is effective at preventing infection with HPV. Extending the current girls-only HPV immunisation programme to include boys would reduce HPV-related disease in males and females in Ireland, improving patient-related outcomes and reducing mortality from HPV-related cancers," Dr Ryan said.
HIQA is now calling on members of the public to give their views on this draft report before it is finalised.
"Following this, a final report will be prepared for consideration by the HIQA Board, before final recommendations are made to the Minister for Health," Dr Ryan added.
Commenting on this, Minister Harris said that the Government is ‘supportive of the extension of the HPV programme to boys'.
"This will be prioritised should the assessment make a positive recommendation. I am encouraged to hear the HIQA assessment has found that vaccinating both boys and girls would have considerable health benefits and that it reiterates that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing infection with HPV," he said.
Members of the public can give their feedback on the draft report until Friday, September 7, 2018. You can read the draft report and take part in the public consultation here
Discussions on this topic are now closed.