Group pushes U.K. gov to include boys in HPV vaccine program

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With HPV rates on the rise in the U.K., researchers are pushing health authorities to include boys in an HPV vaccination program currently offered to females at either age 12 or 13.

The reasoning, says Peter Baker, campaign director of the group HPV Action, is that it’s “simply discriminatory” to not include boys in a program that could protect their lives, according to The Observer. Currently, boys and their families must pay £160 to get the vaccination that protects against a sexually-transmitted virus known to cause certain cancers.

The group points to an increase in potentially deadly throat, tonsil and tongue cancers as highlighting the urgency to offer the vaccines to adolescent boys. As it stands, a government committee is not expected to issue a decision until 2017 on the issue, meaning boys wouldn’t get immunizations through the program until “around 2020,” Baker told The Observer.

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Such a move to change the program sooner could be good news for Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, two makers of HPV vaccines. Proponents say it’d cost about £20 million annually to include boys, The Observer reported, less than the £30 million a year spent treating genital warts and much less than associated cancer treatment expenses. 

Across the pond, several groups have stepped up in recent months to urge HPV vaccination. According to 2015 CDC numbers, just 40% of girls and 21% of boys in the have received the vaccines in the U.S., compared with the goals of a HHS 2020 initiative seeking rates of 80% for both boys and girls.

In February, all 69 of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Centers joined together to call for higher uptake, while ASCO got behind the effort in May. In a new ad, Gardasil maker Merck puts the onus on parents to get the vaccination for their children, showing images of a young man with cancer who wonders why he never got the vaccine.

Several factors have hindered uptake for HPV vaccines since their introduction, including a sex stigma, safety worries, misinformation and the fact that many doctors don't strongly recommend the shots. While they were first expected to bring in $4 billion in annual sales by optimistic analysts, the class hasn’t hit those levels of success. Merck's Gardasil franchise brought in $1.9 billion in sales last year, while GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Cervarix tallied $128 million in sales.

Currently, Australia is the only country that includes boys in a HPV vaccination program, The Observer said.

- here’s The Observer’s story

Related Articles:
Merck's Gardasil leads to major HPV declines, but coverage holes remain: Study
HPV rates dive following vaccine introduction, national study says
NCI's Cancer Centers join in HPV vaccination push
Merck holds parents accountable in new Gardasil ad campaign

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