31 May 2016

Free HPV shots will save boys' lives - doctors

7:30 am on 31 May 2016

Introducing free vaccinations to protect boys against human papillomavirus will save lives, say doctors.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Pharmac has proposed to extend the anti-cancer vaccine known as Gardasil to boys, as well as girls.

It can now afford to do so after negotiating a series of new deals with pharmaceutical companies, it said.

Year 8 girls can get free immunisations against HPV, but boys wanting the same protection had to pay around $450.

Pharmac was considering making a new version of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, available to all teens from January next year.

Those under 14 years would be given just two doses, instead of three.

Pharmac had always maintained it was too expensive to include boys in the programme.

But operations director Sarah Fitt said the new package of vaccine deals now made it more affordable to do cover boys.

"We've been able to generate some quite significant savings which then enables us to widen access to vaccines that are currently funded," she said.

The total cost of extending the HPV vaccine to boys was still being worked out with the drug companies, she said.

New Zealand Medical Association chairperson Dr Stephen Child said it was a positive step that would save lives, whatever the cost.

"Cancers of the mouth and tongue are becoming increasing common and there is a link with the (HPV) virus, which is what we are trying to prevent," he said.

Auckland head and neck surgeon Dr John Chaplin said the vaccine was already free to boys in Australia, Canada, the United States and the UK.

It was time it was in New Zealand too, he said.

"I see an increasing number of people with human papillomavirus-related throat cancers and that's occurs predominantly in men, in a ratio of four to one, men to women" he said.

About 60 percent of teenage girls were vaccinated, and parents needed to be encouraged to immunise their sons as well, said Dr Chaplin.

The HPV vaccine was just one of several changes being mooted by Pharmac. From July next year, all 15-month-old babies could get a free vaccination against chicken pox.

The vaccine currently cost $140 for two doses.

Wellington father Gary Hutchings paid to vaccinate his two young sons and welcomed the move to make it free.

"It certainly wasn't cheap and Pharmac funding it will make it a lot easier for a lot of parents," he said.

Both he and his wife suffered badly from chicken pox themselves so decided to vaccinate their children, but there was also the convenience of not having to take time off from school or work if they fell ill, he said.

Mr Hutchings said he would also consider vaccinating his boys against HPV once they were older.

Pharmac said 100,0000 people would be immunised against a range of diseases if its proposal went ahead.

Public submissions close on 17 June.

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