Australian boys have begun receiving a vaccine against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), a world first in preventative health.
Boys in Year 7 at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts in Sydney received the first shots of the HPV vaccine on Friday as part of a national vaccination program.
Federal health minister Tanya Plibersek said over 280,000 boys will be eligible for the Gardasil vaccine in 2013, which has previously only been available to girls.
“I know that nobody likes getting needles, but getting this needle now, when you’re young, will perhaps save your life in the future,” she told a group of year 7 students.
Over a million girls between the ages of 12 and 16 have already been vaccinated for HPV in Australia.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer and genital warts are due to HPV infection, which can cause cancers in other parts of the body in both men and women.
Since the vaccination program began in 2007, the rate of HPV-infections has dropped, Ms Plibersek said.
The Australian government wants to prevent the virus from spreading by vaccinating boys before they become sexually active.
“There will always be some girls who miss out on being vaccinated,” said Ms Plibersek.
“By vaccinating boys, we’re protecting those girls, as well as protecting boys.”
Ian Olver from the Cancer Council of Australia said the program was an important tool in the fight against cancer.
“If you wipe out the virus, you prevent people from getting cancer,” he said.
More than 400,000 boys and girls across Australia will start receiving the first of three vaccinations in February, with the consent of their parents.