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Public health watchdog wants boys to get HPV vaccine

Vaccinating boys against the spread of Human papillomavirus would also help protect girls, the THL said.

Nuorta naista rokotetaan.
Image: Jochen Tack / AOP

Including boys in Finland’s Human Papillomavirus vaccination programme would be an effective means of combating cancers caused by the infection.

According to a new impact assessment report by the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, extending the vaccination regime to boys would protect both boys and girls. It would also generate considerable savings.

The agency has calculated that the current immunisation programme, which covers girls, saves just over 11 million euros per year, in terms of preventing HPV-related cancers or their early-stage treatment. If the vaccination coverage were extended to boys, it would result in additional annual savings of about 4.1 million euros.

The THL’s proposal has been handed over to the Social Affairs and Health Ministry for consideration.

HPV can cause cancers of the oral cavity, anus, penis, cervix and external uterus, among others. Preventing the spread of the virus would go a long way toward preventing these conditions given that eight out of 10 young people are infected with the virus at some stage in their lives.

According to THL senior physician Tuija Leino, HPV accounts for be between 20 and 50 percent of head and neck cancers, while up to 50 percent of cancers of the tongue and tonsils.

The THL experts said that a vaccination programme that targets boys as well as girls could prevent as many as 300 cancer cases annually.

"By expanding the vaccination programme to also include boys, it is possible that we might even eradicate HPV," said the THL’s HPV working group chair, Antti Mäkitie.

Finland has had an HPV vaccination programme since 2013, and officials estimate that the coverage rate for the shot stands at just over 70 percent.

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