The STI Clinic News > HPV Vaccination Options
# Saturday, 10 September 2016
Posted: Saturday, 10 September 2016 | Categories: HPV

The human papillomavirus (or HPV) vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2008, following years of development and trials. From September 2012, it was made available in secondary schools as a free routine vaccination for girls aged 12 to 13, offering protection against two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases.

At the time of its introduction, many parents railed against the idea of the HPV vaccine being administered to their daughters at such a young age. The reason? The human papillomavirus – of which there are many different strains – is most commonly spread through sexual activity. People worried, in other words, that giving their daughters this vaccine was giving them the green light to enter into sexual relationships.

More recently, the vaccine has courted further controversy by allegedly causing debilitating side effects in some girls – despite no causal link being established between the vaccine and the symptoms suffered. Today, though, the discussion surrounding the HPV vaccine has moved somewhere entirely new: boys, and whether or not they should be routinely vaccinated.

Campaigners in the UK such as HPV Action are now pushing for the HPV vaccine to be made available to boys in secondary school. This is happening in response to rising rates of HPV, new evidence suggesting that the virus may cause anal and penile cancers, and the fact that the vaccine currently costs a whopping £160 – making it totally unaffordable for many British families.

If you’re a parent deliberating over whether or not to vaccinate your children against the human papillomavirus, you may find the following guide helpful.

The Human Papillomavirus

HPV is a name applied to a set of viruses, all of which affect the body in a similar way. They attack the skin and certain membranes, including the cervix, anus, throat and mouth.

There are over 100 types of HPV and they vary in severity, with some classed as particularly high-risk. Around 30 types affect the genital area specifically, and these types are very common and infectious. They are spread during sexual activity, through skin-to-skin genital contact.

Not everyone who gets HPV will develop symptoms; however, if you contract certain strains you could develop genital warts (the second most common STI in the UK after chlamydia) or cervical cancer.

How the HPV Vaccine Works

The HPV vaccine currently in use in the UK is Gardasil. Up until 2012, Cervarix was used. Both vaccines offer good protection against the two strains of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer: 16 and 18. However, Gardasil also offers protection against strains 6 and 11, which most commonly cause genital warts.

Gardasil can also protect against anal and penile cancers caused by the human papillomavirus and is licensed for use in boys, unlike Cervarix.

The vaccine must be given in two doses within a period of six to 24 months, and ideally should be received before you become sexually active. This is because the vaccine cannot treat HPV, only prevent you from contracting it.

If the HPV vaccine were made available routinely to boys, they would likely receive it between the ages of 11 and 12.

What to Do If You’re Not Vaccinated

If you or your child have not received the HPV vaccine and you’re concerned about the risks associated with the virus, there are several things you can do to stay safe.

First of all, it’s very important to practise safe sex. That means wearing condoms when you’re having sex with a new partner and you aren’t sure that they’re free from STIs. However, it’s not always easy to know if someone has HPV, and it is very easy to contract it during sex – sometimes even if you are using condoms.

For that reason, it’s important for women to attend cervical cancer screenings every three years from the age of 25 (or 20 in Scotland). Women can also use home test kits, such as those supplied by The STI Clinic, to screen themselves for HPV.

Unfortunately, there are currently no reliable HPV tests available for boys and men. This is another reason why rolling out routine Gardasil vaccinations for boys whilst they are at school would be beneficial. Until that happens, however, boys and men can stay safe by practising safe sex and visiting the doctor if they experience any unusual symptoms that could point to anal cancer or penile cancer.

 

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