Why it's important for boys to receive the new HPV vaccine
"Vaccinating boys is protecting women in the future too."
From September, all boys and girls in Irish secondary schools will be offered a new HPV vaccine.
The HPV9 vaccine is being rolled out under the recommendations of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to provide protection against cancers and genital warts caused by the HPV virus in adulthood.
The vaccination had already been available for girls, but this is the first time that the jab will be offered to boys of the same age.
Senior Oncology Nurse from the Marie Keating Foundation, Bernie Carter, says that although high risk cases of HPV are most commonly associated with cervical cancer, there are a considerable number of men who also go on to develop HPV related cancers.
“HPV can be attributed to about 406 cancer cases in Ireland every year, and about one quarter of those are men," she says.
"More than 75 percent of those are oropharyngeal, or cancer of the back of the throat. These changes can’t be picked up ahead of time, there’s no screening test for them, so we do need to rely on the vaccines."
While women can test for the presence of high risk HPV infections through smear tests, there is no test available for men.
This is why the HSE are encouraging all parents to have their children vaccinated to ensure that they can be protected in adulthood.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and people are most likely to contract it in their teenage years or early 20s.
"This is why we try to offer the vaccine at a young age, to give children better protection," says Carter.
"HPV is more common in a person’s teens and early 20s, although it can take years for it to develop into cancer if it’s a high risk type of HPV.
"But we can stop that high risk HPV from causing changes in boys and girls by vaccinating them in first year of secondary school."
It is likely that every sexually active man and woman will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
90 percent of HPV infections are low risk, which means that they will clear up on their own, or in some cases, cause genital warts.
A small number of cases, high risk HPV, can go on to cause cancers such as cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, anal cancer, and cancer of the throat.
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so it is important that women go for a regular smear test too. However, Carter says that "the burden shouldn't entirely be on women."
"Vaccinating boys is protecting women in the future too. This shouldn’t just be a woman’s problem."
The lack of awareness and education around HPV and the vaccine has led to much scaremongering among people, some of whom are concerned about the safety of the jab.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has deemed the vaccine "highly efficacious" in preventing some HPV types that cause up to 70 percent of cervical cancers.
Similarly, multiple global studies have deemed the vaccine to be entirely safe and effective.
As Carter says, "there is no evidence in Ireland - or any other country - that the HPV vaccine causes any long term medical conditions."
“There's so much scaremongering and concerns about the safety of the vaccine at the moment, so we need to increase people’s confidence in it," she says.
"The studies have been done and the safety and the risks have been studied, and no country has raised any concerns around the safety of the HPV vaccine."
The jab, like most vaccines, can lead to some mild side effects such as temporary headaches, a pain where the jab was administered, or a fever.
These side effects are mild and will go away quickly.
"The pros massively outweigh the cons," says Carter.
“As a mother of four children, and a nurse of 30 years, I would advocate massively for the vaccine for boys and girls.
"And once he’s old enough, my boy will be getting it too.”
You can find out more about the new HPV9 vaccine programme here.