The Society of British Dental Nurses (SBDN) and the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) have joined dentist leaders in condemning the government for failing to back a catch-up programme to protect up to two million boys still in school from the human papillomavirus (HPV).

New data shows nearly 1 in 5 school-aged girls have missed out on the vaccine and, in a letter to shadow public health minister Sharon Hodgson, public health minister Steve Brine MP has confirmed there will be no catch-up programme for boys, arguing boys will benefit from 'herd protection'.

Girls in England are offered free HPV jabs at school during Years 8 and 9, when they are aged between 12 and 14.

The latest Public Health England (PHE) data shows just 83.8% of girls were given the recommended two doses of the vaccine by the end of Year 9 in 2017-18 – less than what’s required for herd immunity – with nearly 50,000 (48,545) girls missing out.

Dental groups have been leading advocates for expanding the programme to boys. HPV is a leading cause of oral cancers, which cause more deaths in the UK than car accidents.

Emma Riley, chair of the SBDN and Rachel Parsons, associate ambassador, shared their concerns at the decision by the government not to support the catch-up programme for boys.

Emma has worked alongside and supported patients at diagnosis and prior to treatment, during and after treatment of head, neck and oral cancers and Rachel is a survivor of oral cancer. Both believe this is a retrograde step to the progress made and urged the government to reconsider.

BADN president Hazel Coey said: 'As a mother of young men, and grandmother of boys, ranging from 10-18, I am shocked that their lives, and an unnecessary risk of any type of cancer, is considered so inconsequential by our government.

'No risk is worth taking, and the herd protection argument is not of any value to our boys. Nothing less than a catch-up programme for our boys, and full implementation of the HPV vaccination for all girls and boys is good enough.'

Mick Armstrong, chair of the British Dental Association said: 'The latest data on vaccinations among girls illustrates precisely why we’ve needed a gender-neutral approach. It also shows why penny pinching on a catch-up programme will leave many school-aged boys unprotected.

'There can be no guarantees of "herd protection" when nearly 1 in 5 girls are missing out on the vaccine. A catch-up programme remains the best way to protect all our children from this cancer-causing virus.'

The SBDN, BADN and BDA are all members of HPV Action, a collaborative partnership of 51 patient and professional organisations that are working to reduce the health burden of HPV.