The British Dental Association, alongside partner organisations representing the dental workforce, has written to the Department for Health and Social Care to urge the Government to extend the programme of vaccinations against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to boys as well as girls.
With a gender-neutral approach to HPV vaccines on the agenda for the next meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on 6 June, dental leaders have written to Steve Brine MP, the Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, to express their strong support for universal vaccination against the virus.
HPV has been linked to 1 in 20 cases of cancer in the UK, causing not only cervical cancers, but also cancers of the mouth and throat, penis and anus. HPV-caused throat cancers, which are rising sharply in incidence, are among the hardest to diagnose and treat and are twice as likely to affect men as women. Up to 80% of sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives.
The letter sets out the case for blanket immunisation against HPV and asserts it is morally indefensible to allow thousands of men to develop cancers which could be easily and cheaply prevented. It also suggests withholding the vaccine from boys while immunising girls might constitute gender discrimination under equality law.
Mick Armstrong, Chair of the British Dental Association, said: "HPV-related cancers affecting the mouth and throat have a huge impact on the quality of people's lives, so it's frustrating for dentists, who are often the first to detect them, knowing how easily they could have been prevented.
"We urge the Government to consider the human as well as financial cost of these devastating but preventable diseases when making a decision on this issue. There is no logic – or fairness – in only protecting half of the population against this terrible virus. It is time for a universal vaccination programme."
Dr Mick Horton, Dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK), said: "The current girls-only policy is costing lives, and leaving 400,000 more boys needlessly unprotected with every passing year. The fight to reverse the increasing incidence of oral cancer hangs on the government's decision, and we urge ministers to listen to the dentists and other health professionals who see the devastation that HPV-related cancers wreak on patients and their families."
Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons said: "Cancers of the mouth and throat can have a devastating effect on the lives of those that suffer with these awful diseases. We know that a simple injection can help prevent these often-deadly diseases, yet unfairly, it is only girls who are routinely offered vaccination. The Faculty of Dental Surgery is emphatic in its support for extending the programme of HPV vaccinations to boys across our country."