This month’s UK-wide move to extend a potentially life-saving vaccine to boys does not go far enough, according to the boss of a Falkirk-based charity.
The vaccine, originally made available specifically to girls in order to combat cervical cancer, is now being rolled out to 11 to 13-year-old boys across the UK.
However in Scotland, Throat Cancer Foundation chief executive Jamie Rae argues the Scottish Government’s “refusal” to offer an HPV vaccine “catch-up” to boys over 13 will force some hard-up families to make tough choices.
Around 1,250 new cases of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.
Mr Rae says the rate of people being diagnosed with tongue, tonsil and oropharyngeal cancers has increased by almost 60 per cent in the last ten years.
Mr Rae, who was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV in 2011 said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Mr Rae highlights the case of Professor Greg Philo from Glasgow, who was diagnosed with HPV-related throat cancer just six months after his daughter Sarah May (36) discovered she had a brain tumour.
The university lecturer, who teaches journalism and media at Glasgow University, 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.”
Mr Rae says he launched the Throat Cancer Foundation after personal experience of what he says are the lack of resources and support available to people facing throat cancers.
The Foundation is dedicated to reducing the impact of throat cancers on individuals and wider society.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Vaccination policy in Scotland, as with the rest of the UK, is based on recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
“Following the Committee’s recommendation, the HPV vaccination programme will be extended to include S1 boys this academic year (2019/20) and we would encourage all those eligible to take up the offer.
“The JCVI has not recommended a catch-up approach for the HPV Boys programme, should that change we will not hesitate to act and extend our programme.”
The HPV Vaccine has also been available to MSM (men who have sex with men) up to age 45 though sexual health and HIV clinics since 1st July 2017 in Scotland.