A child health nurse holds up a vial and box for the HPV vaccine, brand name Gardasil 

© AP Photo/Daily Free Press, Charles Buchanan

The UK is taking a step toward ending preventable forms of cervical cancers, and some other cancers, by offer free HPV vaccines to boys ages 11 and 12. HPV causes nearly all cervical cancers and most throat and mouth cancers, often in men.

The program, which was announced on July 9, will be in place at the start of this academic year - September 2019.

The UK’s National Health Service has offered the vaccination to girls for free since 2008 and has given out about 10 million doses. The program is estimated to have contributed to an 86% drop in strains of HPV that commonly cause cancer. Including boys is a step towards eliminating new cases of HPV-related cancer.

Other countries, such as the US, should consider following suit. HPV is the most common STI in the US and the CDC estimates that it affects almost every person not vaccinated and who is sexually active at some point in their life. Increasing vaccine access for people of all genders could prevent many of the 4,200 cervical-cancer-related deaths that occur each year in the US.

While the number of adolescents in the US who are up-to-date on HPV vaccination increased five percentage points from 2016 to 2017, it still means only half of them received all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine in 2017. Of particular concern is that the rate of Black girls up-to-date in their HPV vaccinations fell in both Mississippi and Georgia over the same period.

A recent Human Rights Watch report discusses the crucial role the HPV vaccine also plays in closing racial disparities in health in Alabama. The US can raise vaccination rates by increasing awareness and accessibility. Legislators should support policies that ensure more information and access to the vaccine, and state health agencies should provide age-appropriate and accurate training for physicians on how to talk to parents and patients about the HPV vaccine.

By working through law and community strategies, the US can eradicate preventable cancers.

The UK has set an example that the US and other countries can follow.