BDA Northern Ireland has welcomed official confirmation that authorities will extend the HPV vaccination programme to school-aged boys.
The move finally brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. From September the HPV vaccine will be offered to all boys in year nine at school - around 12,000 in total. The vaccine was originally offered as protection from cervical cancer.
BDA Northern Ireland has lead calls for a gender-neutral approach to the vaccinations, has been a leading partner in the UK-wide HPV Action coalition, and has worked closely with charity Cancer Focus NI to lobby the Stormont authorities.
HPV has emerged as the leading cause of throat cancer, especially among young people. As one of the most rapidly rising cancers, oral (mouth and throat) cancer rates are set to double by 2035, and they are increasing more rapidly among men than women. The condition is linked to 5% of all cancers worldwide, including some that affect only men.
The BDA is now seeking clarity on whether the NI government will offer a catch-up programme to older school boys, in line with the approach that was followed across the UK when the vaccine was first rolled out to girls in 2008. Over 45,000 boys could miss out on coverage without a catch-up programme, at a time when uptake among girls is falling, further jeopardising the chance of 'herd immunity'. Westminster has thus far refused to give ground, leaving 1.2 million older boys without cover in England.
Roz McMullan from the BDA's Northern Ireland Council said: 'Extending the HPV vaccination programme will save lives and provide all our children with the best possible defence from this cancer-causing virus.
'Oral cancer now claims more lives than car accidents in Northern Ireland, and cases are skyrocketing. Dentists are on the front line in this battle, and we've fought hard to see prevention put into practice.
'While Northern Ireland is the last UK administration to sign up to jabs for the boys it still has a chance to show leadership. Commitment to a catch-up programme for over 45,000 older boys would send a clear signal that NI is willing to walk the walk on both equality and prevention.'
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Commitment to extending HPV vaccination welcomed. BDJ In Pract 32, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41404-019-0068-6