Italy adopts gender-neutral HPV vaccination program

02/28/2017

The Italian government has changed its policy to allow both boys and girls to be vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) following advice from Kingston University London's Business School academic Prof. Giampiero Favato.

Image: Nurse is vaccinating a young boy; Copyright: panthermedia.net/Andriy Popov

Vaccinating males against HPV – a group of potentially cancer-causing viruses that have an effect on the moist membranes of the body – makes financial sense; ©panthermedia.net/ Andriy Popov

Research by a leading health economics expert from Kingston University London's Business School has played a key role in persuading Italy to introduce free mandatory vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) for all 12-year-old boys and girls.

A study by Prof. Giampero Favato, Director of the Institute for Leadership and Management in Health, has established that vaccinating males against HPV – a group of potentially cancer-causing viruses that have an effect on the moist membranes of the body – makes financial sense, overturning the outcome of previous studies.

There are a number of high-risk strains of HPV and some of these can cause cervical cancer – which more than eight women per day are diagnosed with in the United Kingdom. However, according to Favato, what is often not realized is that HPV infections can also be just as dangerous for men and boys, leading to cancer of the anus or penis.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni recently signed a new agreement making Italy the first country in the European Union and G8-area to adopt a nationwide gender-neutral HPV vaccination program. The plan explicitly cites the BEST study, the health economics paper co-authored by Favato, as evidence of the effectiveness of vaccinating boys.

The Italian national vaccination plan aimed to provide 95 per cent coverage of 12-year-old boys and girls, Favato explained. "This could have significant influence on discussions in the United Kingdom," he added. "The British Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunisation is presently reviewing the cost-effectiveness of vaccinating boys against HPV as the current school program only provides vaccinations for 12-year-old girls. I am working with the advocacy group HPV Action.org to support the case for gender-neutral immunization."

Favato has been part of a multidisciplinary research program working to assess the cost and benefits of a gender-neutral HPV vaccination program since 2010. Along with colleagues in public health, he developed a sophisticated economic model detailing the cost-benefit of the HPV research study. In a presentation to the European Parliament's Gender Summit Europe in Brussels in November, he highlighted his recent conclusion that offering the HPV vaccination to both boys and girls would be the most cost-effective option for improving public health.

Last year Favato was a key member of a group of academics, clinicians and scientists with a special interest in the HPV vaccine which delivered a letter to the then UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. The letter, subsequently published in national British newspaper The Times, stressed that gender-neutral vaccinations had been shown to reduce the incidence of life-threatening cancers. The letter delivered to Mr Hunt stated: "It not only makes sense on a public-health level, but there is now economic evidence to indicate that vaccinating both girls and boys will be cost-effective. Such a step would bring the United Kingdom in to line with Australia, Austria and other countries now recommending HPV vaccination for both sexes."

MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Kingston University

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