The human papilloma virus (or HPV), is common and highly contagious. Since 2008, 12-13 year old girls in the UK have been offered a HPV vaccination and now the Department of Health is considering extending the programme to boys aged 12-13.
Most HPV infections pass quickly, but persistent infection with some strains of the virus can cause genital warts, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the UK, and may lead to cervical cancer in women.
As is often the case, the debate centres around money. If uptake of the vaccine is low in girls, there is a benefit in vaccinating boys. However, with high uptake in girls, vaccinating both sexes is less cost effective. Although the UK’s programme reaches more than 80% of girls, there is a much lower uptake in some areas: London is a particular black spot.