The overwhelming majority of dentists and GPs are backing calls for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme to be expanded to school aged boys, according to a new survey.
In the new poll, published by the campaign coalition HPV Action for World Immunisation Week (24th-28th April), 97% 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. 94% of GPs said they would support both positions.
The survey was sent to members of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK), the British Dental Association and the British Medical Association. In the UK, girls aged 12/13 have been offered the HPV vaccine since 2008, and the survey findings come as the Government’s vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) moves towards a decision on whether boys should be given the HPV vaccination.
Up to 80% of sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives. 5% 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.
Parliamentarians from all parties have signed an open letter to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, urging him to ensure that the UK doesn’t miss this opportunity to eradicate some of the fastest-rising cancers in the developed world.
Mick Horton, Dean of FGDP(UK) said: “The incidence of oral cancer has increased dramatically over the last decade, and over two-thirds of diagnoses are in men. HPV is a main causative agent, and the introduction of the NHS vaccination programme for girls has led to a significant reduction in the prevalence of the virus among women. Yet with over 2,000 men a year in the UK diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer - of whom almost half will die from the condition within five years – it is clear that current measures are not working for everyone. The view of oral health professionals is resounding - many of these lives could and should be saved by also vaccinating boys against HPV.”
Mick Armstrong, Chair of the BDA's Principal Executive Committee, said: “HPV is the leading cause of oro-pharyngeal cancers and men are just as likely to develop it as women so where is the logic – or fairness – in targeting protection to one section of the population? It is morally indefensible to allow people to contract cancer when prevention – the new NHS mantra – could be so cheap and easy. Cancers affecting the mouth and throat have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives, so it’s frustrating for dentists, who are often the first to detect them, knowing how easily they could have been prevented."
Dr Andrew Green, a member of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GPC), said: “If we want to see an end to some of the most aggressive and hard to treat cancers such as throat, head, neck and anal cancer, boys as well as girls must be given the HPV vaccination. It is ridiculous that people are still dying from these cancers when their life could have easily been saved by a simple injection.”
Peter Baker, HPV Action Campaign Director, said: “HPV affects men and women equally and both sexes therefore deserve equal protection though a national vaccination programme. It is now time for the Government’s vaccination advisory committee to look up from its financial spreadsheets and act to end the suffering of those men and women affected by easily-preventable diseases caused by HPV.”
HPV Action is asking members of the public, especially the parents of boys, to sign an online petition demanding gender-neutral vaccination: http://bit.ly/2nHaUul and will be calling on all political parties to commit themselves to gender-neutral HPV vaccination during the forthcoming General Election campaign.
The survey was carried out by HPV Action using Survey Monkey from 12 March-14 April 2017 and valid responses were received from 1,667 GPs and dentists. 995 GPs (60%) and 672 dentists (40%) replied. Oral and HPV-related cancer statistics are sourced from Cancer Research UK and HPV Action.