A jab that protects against cervical cancer should also be given to boys, advisers have told health ministers.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended a “gender-neutral” national vaccination programme to protect against sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV).
The HPV vaccination is routinely offered to girls aged 12 to 13 at secondary school and is free on the NHS up until their 18th birthday, but there have been growing calls to extend immunisation to boys.
The JCVI said: “If considering a cost-effectiveness analysis where a combined girls’ and boys’ programme is compared to no vaccination, gender-neutral HPV vaccination is highly likely to be cost-effective.”
In July last year, campaigners reacted angrily when an interim report by the committee said it could not recommend extension.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been urged to act quickly on the committee’s final report.
Peter Baker, director of campaign group HPV Action, said: “The JCVI’s advice that boys should be vaccinated is very welcome news for boys and their parents.
“It will also benefit those girls who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated against HPV.
“We have waited a very long time for this announcement and it is now imperative that ministers accept the JCVI’s advice without delay so that no more boys are left at risk.
“HPV Action believes it is entirely realistic for the vaccination of boys to begin by September 2019 at the latest.”
The Government said it will consider the advice before issuing a formal announcement.
There are hundreds of strains of HPV virus, and most are harmless, but around 12 types can cause cancer.
HPV is most commonly associated with causing cervical cancer, but can cause mouth and throat cancer, among others, and genital warts.
Boys are said to benefit from the current scheme through “herd protection”, but men who have sex with men and not women do not gain protection.
Countries such as Australia are already vaccinating boys.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The HPV vaccine has proven extremely effective in protecting women against cervical cancer and we now have strong evidence to demonstrate that the vaccine also provides protection against a number of other serious cancers which affect both men and women, including head and neck cancer and anal cancer.
“It has been frustrating that this effective vaccine has, until now, only been available on the NHS to girls but not boys. We hope parents will take up this important opportunity to get their sons and daughters vaccinated as soon as it is available to them.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The Government takes advice from an independent expert committee – the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – when making decisions on vaccination programmes.
“We are carefully considering their advice and will update on a decision shortly.”