Wednesday 28th August 2019
Changes to the HPV vaccine
Girls aged 12 & 13 have been offered the HPV vaccine since 2008.
Since then, the widespread presence of HPV 16 and 18, the main cancer-causing types of HPV, has reduced in the UK by over 80%.
From this school year (2019-20) the vaccine will be offered to all 12 to 13 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 11 to 12 year olds in Scotland – not just girls.
This is an important step forward to help protect more people against cancers related to HPV – whatever your gender.
Why the HPV vaccine changes are important for boys and girls
The vaccine protects boys against the HPV strains that can lead to rarer cancers, such as anal cancer, and cancer of the penis.
But boys having the vaccine will also help to reduce the number of cervical cancers in women even more, as men and boys who have sex with women and girls won’t pass the virus on.
Vaccinating all children against HPV will also increase something called ‘herd protection’. That’s when most people in the population are vaccinated against something, meaning people who are not vaccinated also get some protection too.
The types of cancers linked to HPV aren’t likely to be diagnosed in young people. But it’s important that young people know about this vaccination, so they can take action now to help protect themselves against cancers which could affect them when they’re older.
What is HPV?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that most of us will have at some point in our lives. There are more than 200 types, each with its own number.
How can you get HPV?
HPV spreads through close skin-to-skin contact, like sexual activity including oral sex. It can also be passed on in other ways. HPV is a common virus with many different types. Most of the types are harmless, and your body deals with it without you even knowing you have it.
Does HPV cause cancer?
13 HPV types are linked to cancer. These types are called high-risk HPV.
HPV has been closely linked to cervical cancer, with nearly all cervical cancers (99.7%) being caused by infection with a high-risk type of HPV.
But these high-risk types of HPV are also linked to some other rare types of cancers, like anal cancer, head and neck cancer, and cancer of the penis.
Some research shows that HPV is estimated to cause up to 5% of all cancers worldwide. And other research shows oral cancers have risen by about 30% since 1990, with two-thirds of cases being diagnoses in men.
Men who have sex with men are at higher risk of HPV infection, and therefore some of the cancers it can cause.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine aims to stop people getting some types of high-risk HPV. These high-risk types of HPV are linked to some cancers.
The vaccine is given through two injections for young people under 15.
It can also help prevent against genital warts. Win win, right?!
How can people get the vaccine?
There are currently two main HPV vaccination programmes in the UK:
- Vaccinations in schools
- Vaccinations at sexual health clinics for men who have sex with men
From the next school year beginning August/September 2019, all 12 & 13 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 11 & 12 year olds in Scotland will be offered the HPV vaccine.
The school year that the vaccine will be offered in might be different depending on where in the UK you’re based. And because there are two vaccines for this age group, they might be given across two school years. If you’re unsure, always check with your school. Vaccines will happen during the school day.
Girls who miss the vaccine aged 12 & 13, if they’re off school that day for example, or they decide to have it later in life, can have a ‘catch-up’ jab, up until the age of 25.
But currently, only boys who are eligible for the vaccine in school this year can have the catch-up service up until they’re 25. Boys who are older than this are not eligible to ask for the jab on the NHS, while girls of the same age are. We don’t think this is right, so read on to find out what we’re doing about that. Men who have sex with men, who are under the age of 45, can ask for the vaccine as part of a routine check-up at a sexual health clinic.
Trans women (people who were assigned male at birth) can have the vaccine in the same way as men who have sex with men, if their risk of HPV is similar.
Trans men (people who were assigned female at birth) can also have the vaccine up until the age of 45 if they have sex with other men. Some trans men may have already had the vaccination as part of the girls’ programme.
People who have the vaccine later in life are given three injections instead of two.
What happens if you’re not eligible for the HPV vaccine?
If anyone is not eligible for the vaccine, they can pay to have the injections. These can cost around £150 per injection, and often cost more.
Currently, only boys in the UK who are 11-13 in the 2019 school year, and boys who will reach this age in future years, can have the jab through the school vaccination programme.
This means if you’re a male who’s older than 13 this year, and you only have sex with women, you aren’t currently able to have this jab unless you can pay for it.
We don’t think this is right.
That’s why we’re calling on the NHS to to include the generation of school-aged boys who will currently miss out and asking that the vaccine is available for them too, for free on the NHS, if they request it.
Can young people with cancer have the vaccine?
If you are unwell, you might not be able to have the vaccine. That means if you’re a young person with cancer, you might not be able to have it when you’re due to have it.
If you are eligible for the vaccine this year, but you miss it because you are unwell, you will be able to have the catch-up jab up until the age of 25.
Need more information?
Take a look at the below resources which we’ve used to write this piece, and some other organisations which can give you more information. And remember, you can always talk to your GP, school, or other health professional for more details.