Europe 1 with AFP 16:40 pm, September 02, 2023

Since 2021, HPV vaccination has been recommended for boys, whereas it was previously mainly recommended for girls aged 11 to 14. A generalized and free vaccination campaign for 5th grade students will therefore begin from October 2 in several regions.

Long reserved for girls, the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) now also concerns boys. A necessary extension both to protect them from certain cancers and to hope ultimately to completely eliminate these diseases. In France, HPV vaccination has been recommended for girls aged 11 to 14 years since 2007, and for boys of the same age since 2021. A generalized and free vaccination of 5th grade students will begin from October 2 in some regions. It will be preceded by a communication campaign on vaccination on Monday.

Every year in the country, HPV, abbreviation for human papillomavirus, are responsible for more than 6,000 new cases of cancer, most often of the cervix, which causes 1,100 deaths per year, of the vulva or vagina, but also of the ENT sphere, anus or penis. A recent study published in The Lancet showed that, at some point, 31% of men over the age of 15 are infected with an HPV-like virus. More importantly, one in five men (21%) is a carrier of oncogenic HPV, i.e. potentially causing cancer.

A "highly transmissible" virus

If the main affected are between 25 and 29 years old (35%), all sexually active men are "an important reservoir of genital HPV infections", continues the study. "This meta-analysis of the Lancet confirms empirical and theoretical elements: the HPV virus is everywhere, it is extremely transmissible," commented to AFP Emmanuel Ricard, spokesman for the League against cancer and doctor of public health. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cited by The Lancet, about 69,400 cases of cancer in men caused by HPV were identified in 2018 worldwide.

Vaccinating boys therefore has a first obvious benefit: the injection protects them directly against cancers and warts of the anogenital sphere (penis and anus) for which the effectiveness of the vaccine is already established. Another expected gain: "A probable protection against ENT cancers, more frequent in men, induced by HPV," says Judith Mueller, medical epidemiologist, professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health (EHESP) and researcher at the Pasteur Institute.

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Limit transmission

Last January, Arthur Sadoun, boss of the French communication group Publicis, broke a taboo on this little-known link by publicly evoking his tonsil cancer, caused by HPV. He had also invited to testify the American actor Michael Douglas, also affected by an ENT cancer due to the virus. Vaccinating young boys, future sexual partners and spouses, should also reduce the risk of transmission of these viruses.

"Boys are infected with girls, girls with boys, and there are girls who contaminate themselves with girls and boys with boys," says Emmanuel Ricard. "At some point, if you want to stop the virus from circulating, you have to vaccinate everyone." An argument retained by Rémy Bellet, executive in the insurance, who did not wait for the vaccination campaign planned in college in the classes of 5e, to vaccinate Paul, his 12-year-old son: "My wife had a precancerous HPV. On that occasion we learned that boys were also carriers of the virus and that a vaccine existed," he said. "It seemed obvious to us that he had to be vaccinated."

"Non-gendered vaccine recommendation"

On a practical level, "the non-gendered vaccine recommendation will be easier to promote," says Judith Mueller: "Communication no longer needs to be targeted only at young girls, but only at young people." According to the researcher, vaccinating boys is all the more important as current coverage is "not yet optimal". By the end of 2022, 48% of girls and 13% of 15-year-old boys had received at least one dose of vaccine.

"Vaccinating boys will clearly have an impact on women's health by accelerating the reduction of cervical cancer risk," Mueller said. "With good information for families, future campaigns in middle school have the potential to raise immunization coverage among girls and boys to a level that will provide significant protection."