Young people urged to get HPV vaccine as school programme stalls


  Posted by: Dental Design      24th January 2024

Health experts are encouraging young people to ensure they get the HPV vaccine, as recent statistics reveal that approximately one-in-six girls and one-in-five boys in England remain unvaccinated by the time they reach school year 10.

The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine provides protection against various cancers, including mouth, head & neck, cervical, anal, and genital cancers, impacting both girls and boys.

Administered to all 12-13-year-olds in schools and community clinics, parental consent is necessary for their child to receive the vaccine from NHS nurses.

School closures and pupil absences caused HPV vaccination rates to plummet during Covid-19.

Yet, new figures reveal vaccine coverage remains significantly lower than before the pandemic. Data reveals that by the end of this school year, over 50,000 girls and more than 70,000 boys in year 10 didn’t get vaccinated against HPV.

Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation said: “In the wake of the pandemic, our hopes for a swift recovery in HPV vaccination rates for children have been disappointed by current figures. It is concerning that the post-pandemic rebound of the program has yet to materialise.

“The HPV vaccine is a proven and effective measure in preventing HPV-related cancers, such mouth cancer. By vaccinating children early, we not only shield them from these life-threatening diseases but also contribute to the overall reduction of HPV prevalence within our communities.” 

Starting with the current 2023/24 school year, the HPV vaccine is being offered to most under-25s as a single dose instead of two doses, in light of updated guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The latest statistics indicate that during the academic year 2022/23, there was a slight increase in vaccination rates for both boys and girls in year 8 compared to the previous year (2021-22).

However, there was a decline in uptake for years 9 and 10. Specifically, the vaccination rate for year 9 girls decreased from 82.2% to 75.7%, year 10 girls from 86.5% to 83.2%, year 9 boys from 77.6% to 69.7%, and year 10 boys from 81.5% to 78.6%.

Since it’s release in 2008, the HPV vaccination programme has protected millions of children from cancers and diseases in the future.

Dr Catherine Tannahill, Director of Dentistry at Portman-Dentex said: “The UK HPV vaccination programme stands as one of the world’s most successful initiatives, having administered millions of doses since its inception in 2008. This programme has significantly reduced rates of mouth cancer and harmful infections in both women and men, effectively preventing numerous cancers and saving lives.

“Year 8 pupils, both girls and boys, have the opportunity to receive the HPV vaccine, and recent findings suggest that just one dose offers robust protection. We encourage all eligible individuals to seize this potentially life-saving vaccine when it becomes available.

“For those who may have missed the initial vaccination, it’s not too late. Contact your school nurse, school immunisation team, or GP practice to schedule an appointment, as catch-up options are accessible until you turn 25. Your health matters, and we’re here to help you stay protected.”

HPV is linked to 5% of all cancers and is a leading cause of mouth cancer, which has seen cases increase dramatically over the last generation.

In the UK, almost 10,000 people a year are diagnosed with the disease, more than double compared with 20 years ago.

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