Thousands of boys will be vaccinated against the cancer-causing HPV virus, which has previously only been administered to girls.
Health Minister Simon Harris reaffirmed the promise to roll out the vaccine for boys in the next school year after the proposed extension was assessed as both clinically and cost effective by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
Hiqa also said the vaccine is safe and recommended that both girls and boys get a newer version of the vaccine, which protects against more types of HPV.
“Funding has already been made available in the budget to facilitate the introduction of this initiative in 2019, subject to a favourable recommendation being made in the Hiqa assessment report,” Mr Harris said.
Although HPV is widely known to be associated with cervical cancer in women, it also leaves boys at risk of disease in later life.
The vaccine should reduce the risk of throat cancer and also genital warts.
Dr Mairin Ryan, Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment, said: “Extending the HPV vaccine to boys provides direct protection against HPV-related disease to boys, indirect protection to girls who have not been vaccinated and would reduce HPV-related disease and mortality in Ireland.
“Over 20 years, a gender-neutral programme will prevent an estimated 101 additional cases of cervical cancer, compared with the current girls-only programme.”
The Hiqa report said 538 cancers associated with HPV are diagnosed in Ireland every year, including in the cervix, anus, penis, neck and throat. HPV infection is also responsible for 90pc of genital warts.
One in four of the HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in men.
The cost of switching to the new vaccine for girls will be an additional €870,000 over five years.
It also showed that the budget impact of providing it to boys and girls will be an additional €11.7m over five years.
There was a fall in the take-up of the vaccine by teenage girls in recent years after it was wrongly linked to complications and serious side effects.
However, uptake in this academic year is expected to be higher following the CervicalCheck scandal and the harrowing testimonies of women who developed cervical cancer.
Prof Mary Horgan, a consultant in infectious diseases, said it is essential that boys are also protected from cancers, such as those of the head and neck that are often caused by HPV infection.
“There is an approximate 20pc increase in throat cancers. Nearly 50pc of this rise in oropharyngeal disease is directly related to HPV, with almost 80pc of those occurring in men, yet there is little awareness of the risks to men.
“While progress has been made in increasing HPV vaccine uptake rates in girls in Ireland which will confer some indirect protection to boys, we will not get to a point of elimination of this potentially serious infection without a rollout of vaccination and provision of direct protection to boys,” said Prof Horgan, who is president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.