As teenage boys are set to be offered the HPV vaccine in Scotland from this month onwards, the chief executive of The Throat Cancer Foundation is still fighting the cause for older boys to be given the life-saving vaccination.
Around 1,250 new cases of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.
Evidence now shows that the HPV vaccine helps protect both boys and girls from HPV-related cancers including throat cancer.
The rate of people being diagnosed with tongue, tonsil and oropharyngeal cancers has increased by almost 60 per cent in the last 10 years.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme is being rolled out to 11 to 13-year-old boys across the UK from January 2020.
However, Throat Cancer Foundation boss Jamie Rae says the Scottish Government’s refusal to offer a potentially life-saving HPV vaccine catch-up programme to boys over 13 will force hard-up families to choose between feeding their families or protecting their kids.
Figures from the Childhood Immunisation Statistics Scotland (ISD) show at least 100,000 boys are being missed by not offering catch-up.
Throat Cancer Foundation CEO Jamie, who was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV in 2011, said: “Although the campaign that we fought for originally, for boys to also be offered the HPV vaccination, has been a success and is finally being rolled out in Scotland from this month onwards, there is still a complete lack of equity when it comes to this decision that only boys under the age of 13 should be given this life-saving vaccination.
“They should be treated the exact same way as girls were when they were offered a catch-up programme back in 2008 when the vaccination was made available and yet our plea to the Scottish Government is falling on deaf ears.
“If a family has two boys, one that’s aged 11 and one aged 13, the 11-year-old will be given the vaccination and the 13-year-old won’t unless they pay for it.
“It means working class families need to decide whether to put dinner on the table that month or to protect their children from HPV.
“This is putting thousands of young men at risk. It’s not good enough.”
The Scottish Government’s refusal to introduce a catch-up programme means families with boys will be facing a major financial hit to get them protected.
In November, Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar asked Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick to consider extending the programme.
The minister said he was ‘very sympathetic’ to the idea.
Anas Sarwar, Labour MSP for Glasgow, said: “Up to 100,000 boys aged 14 to 18 will not be able to get a free, catch up vaccine when the new HPV vaccination programme to reduce cancer incidence is rolled out in January. Instead they may buy the recommended three doses privately.
“A catch-up programme for all girls was introduced in 2008. I am aware of one family that has paid £800 to vaccinate their two 16-year-old boys.
“The Scottish Government should urgently consider extending this programme to all boys so no parent is forced to choose between putting food on the table or paying to protect their child from cancer.”
Professor Greg Philo, from Glasgow, was diagnosed with HPV-related throat cancer just six months after his daughter Sarah May Philo, 36 discovered she had a brain tumour.
The university lecturer, who teaches journalism and media at Glasgow University, backed the Throat Cancer Foundation’s national campaign to have a catch-up programme for older boys to be given access to the life-saving jab.
If the catch-up programme isn’t introduced, families will face a vaccination lottery, simply because they have teenage boys.
Professor Philo, 72, from Glasgow, said: “I got throat cancer and went through the whole process of it.
“It was around six months after my daughter Sarah May found out she had a brain tumour, which was obviously a really horrible time.
“My throat cancer was caused by HPV, which I had only known about in relation to cervical cancer before that.
“I’d never been ill and I don’t smoke or drink. It was a real shock.
“I’m very much in favour of the vaccination of boys, it’s appalling to know the costs of the vaccination for older boys and that people may have to go through what I have.”