TEENAGE boys in Scotland will be offered a vaccine to protect against a sexually transmitted virus linked to throat cancer.

Schoolboys will be included in the human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme for the first time following recommendations that it would be cost effective to expand it.

Girls in Scotland are already routinely offered the vaccine during the first three years of secondary school to reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer in future. HPV is known to be a major risk factor for the disease.

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The free vaccinations were extended last year to men who have sex with men, up to the age of 45.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “I am pleased to announce that the Scottish Government will implement a HPV vaccination programme for adolescent boys in Scotland.

"We know from the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that this will help reduce diagnoses of HPV related cancers and save lives in years to come.

“Work to develop the programme will now begin, in conjunction with Health Protection Scotland and NHS Scotland, to be rolled out as soon as is practicable.”

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The decision follows advice from the JCVI, the UK body which designs guidance on immunisations, concluded that expanding HPV in schools to boys as well as girls was "highly likely to be cost-effective”.

It reverses an interim statement from the JCVI in July 2017 which declined to recommend the programme's expansion.

This decision was changed after evidence put forward in the consultation suggested that HPV was responsible for 60 per cent of mouth and throat cancers, rather than 30 per cent assumed in earlier tests.

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David Cross, vice-chairman of the British Dental Association's Scottish Council, said: "Oral cancer rates in Scotland are double those in England, and people from our most deprived communities are up to three times more likely to be affected.

"HPV is a key risk factor, and this year 30,000 boys in Scotland have gone unprotected.

"Ministers now need to act fast, and give boys the same protection our girls currently receive through the school vaccination programme.

"Oral cancer claims more lives in Scotland than car accidents. Dentists are often the first to spot the condition, and have fought to see the logic of prevention put into practice."

Jamie Rae, founder of the Throat Cancer Foundation and HPV Action, said: "We sincerely hope they will now respond rapidly so everyone is protected from HPV at the earliest opportunity.

"Australia and a number of other countries have either implemented or recommended a gender-neutral vaccination programme and we believe that the UK should now follow suit.

"Our young men should not be exposed to a terrible, debilitating disease which causes long term suffering and can end lives."