Northern Ireland only region without life-saving jab for teenage boys due to Stormont collapse
A LEADING charity has called for a jab that protects against cervical cancer to be given to boys in Northern Ireland - just days after the British government announced it was to be introduced in England.
Cancer Focus NI said the "breakthrough" decision to offer the life-saving human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to boys - a decade after it was first brought in for girls - must be urgently followed up by the Department of Health in the north.
However, department chiefs last night said while 'preparatory work' is underway to extend the scheme in the north, it will require ministerial sign-off
HPV is the leading cause of oral cancer, such as throat and mouth cancers, and is one of the most rapidly rising cancers with rates are set to double by 2035. It is increasing faster among men than women.
The vaccination is offered to schoolgirls aged 12 to 13 to prevent cervical cancer and is free on the NHS up until their 18th birthday, but there had been growing calls to extend immunisation to boys.
Health ministers in Wales and Scotland last week confirmed that they would be introducing vaccinations for boys. This follows a final recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which said it would be cost-effective.
Cancer Focus NI has joined with the British Dental Association to lobby for change after dentists reported an increase in patients presenting with mouth cancers.
Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at the charity said: "Extending the vaccination to include adolescent boys is the optimal way to reduce preventable HPV related cancers.
"With every year that passes, 12,000 more boys in Northern Ireland are left unprotected against HPV-related diseases. That is unacceptable.”
Roz McMullan, the NI chair of BDA said dentists are trained to diagnose all diseases of the mouth and throat.
"We must ensure that all our children, including boys here in Northern Ireland, benefit from a universal vaccination programme and, along with our Cancer Focus NI partners, are calling on our Department of Health to provide that clarity as a matter of urgency."
A Department spokeswoman said: "In light of the JCVI recommendation the Department has directed that preparatory work be commenced to allow for the introduction of HPV in boys in Northern Ireland pending a decision by an incoming minister."