As the old saying goes, there’s nothing more important in life than good health, writes Dr Jonty Heaversedge…
And while not all health issues can be prevented, there are lots of opportunities for us to try and stop problems arising so that people can live healthier, happier and longer lives.
One way of doing this is through vaccination, which after clean water, is the most effective public health intervention in the world – helping to prevent an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year.
In 2008, the UK started to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 years-old against the human papilloma virus (HPV).
HPV is a common group of viruses that can be spread by skin-to-skin contact. It is thought to be responsible for over 99% of cervical cancers, and many cancers of the mouth, throat and genitals.
It can also cause other problems such as genital warts, and skin warts and verrucas on other parts of the body.
However, the vaccination programme in girls has been so successful – with excellent take-up and impressive results in reducing the number of HPV-related infections – that it’s being extended to boys as well.
This means that from September 2019, boys aged 12 to 13 years old (school year 8) will be offered the free HPV vaccination for the first time.
Offering the vaccine to boys will not just protect them, but also help prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in girls as well.
Public Health England estimates that by offering the vaccine to both boys and girls, by 2058 it will prevent more than 114,000 people getting cancer – including 64,000 cases of cervical cancer and 29,000 cancers in men.
This is a potentially life-saving vaccine and the sooner girls and boys have it, the better; it’s important not to delay, as vaccination may be less effective as teenagers get older.
Indeed, the vaccine works best if people receive it before they come into contact with HPV – in other words, before they become sexually active.
I encourage all parents of eligible boys and girls to make sure they take up the offer.
By doing so, we can ensure people are better protected in our efforts to make HPV-related conditions a thing of the past.
Dr Jonty Heaversedge is a GP at Manor Place Surgery and Chair of NHS Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group