The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has announced a recommended extension of the National Immunisation Program for human papillomavirus (HPV) in boys, which will be provided to the federal Government for approval.

PBAC rejected a submission by drug maker CSL in May to add the HPV vaccine Gardasil to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for use in males, which would reduce HPV-caused penile, head and neck cancers in men generally and anal cancers in gay men.

La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) director Professor Marian Pitts said men of all ages know far less about HPV and the benefits of an HPV vaccination.

“Most people now know that HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer, but few realise that the virus can affect other sites, including the ano-genital tract and cancers of the head and neck,” Pitts said.

“There has been a rapid increase worldwide in the incidence of cancers in the head and neck, most especially oropharyngeal—tonsils and tongue cancers.”

Gardasil is approved in Australia for use in boys and men aged nine to 26. Without subsidy, it costs $450 a treatment. Most parents are unaware of the protection it offers boys.

Professor Andrew Grulich, of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, told the Star Observer that few boys outside those from medical families were being immunised.

“The boys who are getting it more than any others are the sons of doctors because doctors are aware of the enormous benefits of this vaccine for boys,” Grulich said.

“There is absolutely no doubt it will prevent most anal cancer, that it will prevent quite a bit of penile cancer, and that it will prevent almost all anal and genital warts.”

The federal Government said it would consider the committee’s new recommendations which would include ongoing administration to males approximately 12-13 years of age in a school-based program and given as a catch-up for boys in the 14-15 age group.

Even with approval of the recommendation, it’s unlikely the program would be operational in time to begin vaccinations next year.

“Given our outstanding success in vaccinating more than 80 percent of eligible young women, we are overjoyed the benefits of this vaccine will become available to our young men,” Pitts said.

“These recommendations will spread knowledge of HPV and help promote the health and wellbeing of Australia’s society.

“Australia is already seeing strong evidence of the health benefits from vaccinating young women and will be the first country in the world to offer a comprehensive school-based vaccination program to both young men and young women.”

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