HPV vaccine, short for the human papillomavirus vaccine, will be offered to boys aged 12 to 13 in England, 10 years after it was introduced for girls, public health minister Steve Brine said.
It follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which said last week that a “gender-neutral” programme to protect against the sexually transmitted infection would be “cost-effective”.
Mr Brine said: “The HPV vaccine for girls is already expected to save hundreds of lives every year and I am delighted that we will now be protecting even more people from this devastating disease by extending the vaccine to boys.
“Any vaccination programme must be firmly grounded in evidence to ensure that we can get the best outcomes for patients, but as a father to a son, I understand the relief that this will bring to parents.
“We are committed to leading a world-class vaccination programme and achieving some of the best cancer outcomes in the world – I am confident these measures today will bring us one step further to achieving this goal.”
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 had been growing calls to extend immunisation to boys.
There are hundreds of strains of HPV virus, and most are harmless, but around 12 types can cause cancer.
The vaccination will protect boys from HPV-related diseases, such as oral, throat and anal cancer, and will also help reduce the number of cervical cancers in women through “herd immunity”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said: “I’m pleased that adolescent boys will be offered the HPV vaccine.
“Almost all women under 25 have had the HPV vaccine and we’re confident that we will see a similarly high uptake in boys.”
The girls’ programme has already reduced the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18 – the main cancer-causing types – by more than 80 per cent, according to PHE data.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is fantastic that boys are to be offered the same protection against HPV-related cancers as girls.
“The girl’s vaccination programme has significantly reduced HPV prevalence among young women which will result in fewer cancer diagnoses in years to come.
“Extending the vaccine to boys means we will see even more cancers prevented and lives saved.”
The announcement follows similar decisions by the Welsh and Scottish governments after the JCVI recommendation.
HPV infections can be spread by any skin to skin contact, and are usually found on the fingers, hands, mouth and genitals.
This means the virus can be spread during any kind of sexual activity, including touching, explains the NHS.
The health body states: “Most unvaccinated people will be infected with some type of HPV at some time in their life. In most causes, the virus does not do any harm because their immune system clears the infection.
“But in some cases, the infection stays in the body for many years and then, for no apparent reason, it may start to cause damage.
“Cervical screening (sometimes called a smear test) can detect these changes. The person can then be treated to stop cancer developing.”