By Sally Wardle, Press Association Health and Science Correspondent
A jab that protects against cervical cancer will also be given to boys, the Government has announced.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be offered to boys aged 12 to 13 in England, 10 years after it was introduced for girls, public health minister Steve Brine said.
It follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which said last week that a “gender-neutral” programme to protect against the sexually transmitted infection would be “cost-effective”.
Mr Brine said: “The HPV vaccine for girls is already expected to save hundreds of lives every year and I am delighted that we will now be protecting even more people from this devastating disease by extending the vaccine to boys.
“Any vaccination programme must be firmly grounded in evidence to ensure that we can get the best outcomes for patients, but as a father to a son, I understand the relief that this will bring to parents.
“We are committed to leading a world-class vaccination programme and achieving some of the best cancer outcomes in the world – I am confident these measures today will bring us one step further to achieving this goal.”
The HPV vaccination is routinely offered to girls aged 12 to 13 at secondary school and is free on the NHS up until their 18th birthday, but there had been growing calls to extend immunisation to boys.
There are hundreds of strains of HPV virus, and most are harmless, but around 12 types can cause cancer.
The vaccination will protect boys from HPV-related diseases, such as oral, throat and anal cancer, and will also help reduce the number of cervical cancers in women through “herd immunity”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said: “I’m pleased that adolescent boys will be offered the HPV vaccine.
“Almost all women under 25 have had the HPV vaccine and we’re confident that we will see a similarly high uptake in boys.”
The girls’ programme has already reduced the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18 – the main cancer-causing types – by more than 80%, according to PHE data.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is fantastic that boys are to be offered the same protection against HPV-related cancers as girls.
“The girl’s vaccination programme has significantly reduced HPV prevalence among young women which will result in fewer cancer diagnoses in years to come.
“Extending the vaccine to boys means we will see even more cancers prevented and lives saved.”
The announcement follows similar decisions by the Welsh and Scottish governments after the JCVI recommendation.