THE Government plans to offer boys a vaccine aimed at protecting girls from cervical and other cancers caused by the human papilloma virus, a disease spread by sexual contact. 

Girls are already given the vaccine, with parental consent, but the jabs will be extended to boys aged 12 and 13 from September this year. Professor Beate Kampmann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine called the decision ‘a triumph for gender equality in cancer prevention’.

Young teenage girls have reportedly been put under pressure to accept the HPV vaccination despite its health risks. Will extending those risks to males constitute a ‘triumph for gender equality’?

Since 2008, when the HPV vaccine was introduced for teenage girls, HPV cases have fallen by 86 per cent among the age groups vaccinated; however, in recent years sexually transmitted diseases overall have continued to rise, chiefly among young people, black ethnic minorities and men who have sex with men.

At the same time the number of abortions has been falling among teens. Last year it was claimed that more than 10,500 underage girls, some as young as 12, had been given NHS contraceptive implants without their parents’ knowledge, and that teenage girls are routinely accessing the morning-after pill. 

And as a regular part of sex education, boys and girls are being taught about oral and anal sex with the message that these practices are normal and healthy. 

All this suggests that among teens long-term contraception and the encouragement of non-reproductive sex acts has cut the number of abortions but succeeded in raising the number of STDs and rarer cancers such as those affecting the head and neck and the penis. 

Scientists say that extending the HPV vaccine to boys could eradicate cervical cancer altogether, with estimates that by 2058 in Britain the vaccine could prevent 65,000 cancers and 50,000 non-cervical cancers – including 3,500 cases of penile cancer and 21,000 cases of head and neck cancer, such as throat cancer, in men.

It is clear that some ‘cures’ lead to the need for even more cures for even more diseases; even as we have reduced the number of cases of cervical cancer we have managed to increase the number of other cancers. Surely it would be better to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases by preventing the behaviour that leaves children vulnerable to them in the first place – by teaching them how to respect themselves and exercise self-control.

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