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Govt pushes HPV vaccine for boys

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 30/01/2017

As students begin a new school year, the government and experts are talking up a free vaccine against a cancer-causing virus that's being offered to boys for the first time.

Pharmac funding for Gardasil, a vaccine that has been protecting young women against human papillomavirus (HPV), was last year extended to also cover boys from 2017.

While the vaccine is known for its ability to protect against cervical cancer, it can also reduce the risk of other cancers - such as of the throat - along with genital warts, New Zealand's most common STI.

The government on Tuesday announced it would be launching a campaign across radio, print, outdoor ads and online to convince parents and caregivers of Year Eight students about the vaccine's benefits.

"HPV-related cancers cause more than 50 deaths in New Zealand each year, and most of these are preventable," says Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman.

"A growing proportion of throat cancers are caused by HPV and they affect males at higher rates than females."

The vaccine will be available free through most schools for Year Eight students as part of the standard immunisation programme, he said.

Only a few other countries have made the vaccine open to both men and women, including Australia since 2013 and the US since 2009.

University of Auckland Immunisation Advisory Centre director and Associate Professor Nikki Turner said while it would take several years to see the effect of immunising boys on cancer rates, previous studies had found a dramatic decline in genital warts.

"Parents need to be aware that the vaccine is expected to be highly effective against a range of very nasty cancers, and against genital warts, and it has a well-established international safety record," she said.

And in good news for those scared of needles, younger people receiving the vaccine will only need two doses, as opposed to three for adults.

"This is a good reason not to delay vaccinating younger teenagers," Prof Turner said

The changes to funding for Gardasil also allow anyone up to the age of 26 to get catch-up vaccines.

About 65 per cent of girls in Year Eight were immunised last year, with the rate climbing steadily in recent years.

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