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Almost half of girls missing out on vaccination against mouth cancer

A health minister expressed alarm after hearing that 40% of girls are missing out on a vaccine that can significantly cut cases of mouth cancer.

Dentist, Sir Paul Beresford, revealed the low take-up of the programme to guard against the human papillomavirus (HPV), in his Surrey constituency.

Sir Paul is already pressing for the vaccine to be extended to all boys, warning that HPV-related oral cancers are sharply on the rise in the UK.

That idea is currently being explored by an expert committee, although it is examining whether to give the vaccine to 'men who have sex with men, to adolescent boys, or to both'.

Now Sir Paul, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on dentistry, has warned many girls are missing out too,­ even in wealthy areas such as his.

He told ministers: 'In my area of Surrey, where parents take health and health protection seriously, only 60% of the girls who could and should be receiving the HPV vaccine do so.

'Assuming a 50:50 split of boys and girls at inoculation age, only 30% of the Surrey population that could, and should, be inoculated are.'

Calling for 'early action, as Australia has done', Sir Paul added: 'A full spread of inoculation would, as with polio, bring herd immunity over time.'

In response, health minister, Jane Ellison, said she was 'surprised and concerned' to hear such figures, but suggested it was up to MPs to improve performance.

She said MPs 'rightly challenge ministers', but added: 'When there is local information, I urge them also to challenge their local systems and to ask what is being done to bring them up to the national rate.

'We know that there are challenges with some of the hard-to-reach groups.

'We cannot drive the change solely from Whitehall and it is good if they also ask questions about accountability locally.'

As Dentistry reported, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is poised to decide on extending vaccination to gay men, adolescent boys, or both.

Public Health England is already carrying out work to provide evidence that it would be a 'cost-effective use of NHS resources', MPs were told.

And the Department of Health believes it would be able to quickly renegotiate its contract to provide sufficient vaccines.

However, Ms Ellison played down suggestions of a quick decision, saying 'The evidence base, mathematical modelling and deliberations will take time.'

Meanwhile, Sir Paul said it would make no sense to vaccinate only gay men, adding: 'I hope an inoculation programme for boys and girls will be made available and promoted.'

The MP has previously said there are 1,800 deaths every year linked to oral cancers — with a 35% rise in new cases, compared with 30 years ago.

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