Lead officers: Rob Young, Vice President Society and Citizenship 2016/2018
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining the body, for example, in the cervix, anus, mouth and throat. There are more than 100 types of HPV, which are most commonly passed on through genital contact, usually during sex, but can be transmitted in other ways too, such as through skin-to-skin contact. HPV can be passed on even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms and between heterosexual and same-sex partners.
HPV is very common, and almost every sexually-active person will get HPV at some time in their lives. Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, but sometimes HPV infections persist and may cause a variety of serious problems, including cancer. Although the link between HPV and cervical cancer has received the most attention, HPV is not just a women’s health problem it is an issue for all genders.
Despite HPV’s impact on everyone’s health, most countries’ vaccination programmes focus on women exclusively. In the UK, girls have been vaccinated routinely since 2008, mainly via a school-based programme.
NUS, therefore, joined forces with HPV Action in 2016 to campaign for the UK national HPV vaccination programme to include children of any gender to prevent a range of HPV-related conditions.
We launched the Get the jab campaign because we believed an HPV vaccination that covers both all children, regardless of their gender, would improve public health, tackle health inequalities and be cost-effective. Encouraging students to sign an early day motion for Gender Neutral HPV vaccinations we worked with HPV Action to promote a change in government approach.
HPV Action’s main target to influence was the government’s vaccination advisory committee (known as JCVI) which, in 2013, had begun an assessment of whether boys should be vaccinated. At that time, the JCVI was expected to make a decision in 2015. This was then postponed to 2017, before finally being made in 2018.
On 24 July 2018, public health minister Steve Brine announced that boys would now be covered by the HPCV vaccination programme, with the roll out beginning in September 2019. All boys and girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, Year 9 in Northern Ireland and S1 in Scotland were due to be offered the vaccine at some point during the 2019/20 school year (although the Covid-19 pandemic was expected to cause some disruption due to school closures). More information is available on the NHS website.
HPV Action continued to make the case for a catch-up vaccination programme for older boys (up to 18 years) who had missed out prior to the decision. However, in March 2020, the government's vaccination advisory committee decided not to recommend a catch-up programme. This was largely due to a global HPV vaccine shortage.
The main goal of gender-neutral vaccination was, however, a major advance in public health of which its 51 member organisations are proud. HPV Action ceased operations on 30 September 2020.
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