UK: Health minister to pursue ‘as a matter of urgency’ extending HPV vaccine for boys and gay men

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

Conservative MP Mike Freer has secured a concession from the Public Health Minister Anna Soubry that it is unfair that the vaccination programme against the Human Papillomavirus is not currently available for teenage boys.

Girls aged between 12 and 13 currently receive the vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer.

Extending it to boys could protect them in the future from anal, penile and oral cancer.

Mr Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green in north London, successfully raised the matter yesterday during a debate in the Commons.

He believes teenage boys in state schools should be offered the HPV vaccine as well.

The current scheme uses the concept of “herd vaccination” as a secondary motivation to protect males in relationships with vaccinated females, but men who have sex with men (MSM) cannot benefit from receiving protection in the same way.

Mr Freer wants the scheme to be expanded in order to protect all teenagers from HPV later in life, and argues that the current scheme does not protect gay men.

On Tuesday evening he called on Anna Soubry, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, to allow the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) “to look at how best to vaccinate boys, girls, women and men.”

Mr Freer said doing so would reduce rates of HPV-related cancers and therefore provide cost-savings for the Department of Health.

In response, Ms Soubry said: “I am grateful for that intervention. I was about to conclude by saying that it is only fair and right to acknowledge the powerful arguments that have been advanced by a number of [MPs]. They have certainly caused me to take the view that I will not hesitate to contact the JCVI, as a matter of urgency, to raise all these important points with them. The committee is an independent expert body, and when it gives its advice to the government, the government are—quite rightly—bound to accept that advice.”

Receiving the vaccination privately for those who are not eligible for the HPV programme can cost between £297 – £522, but Ms Soubry suggested it was wrong to expect gay men to pay for it.

“Forgive me—it is available, but people have to pay for it. The point being made is that they should not have to pay for it. It should be available, like any other vaccination. That is a good point, and one that I am more than happy to take up.

“These are all important and powerful arguments, especially when they are advanced on the basis of inequality, which should concern us all, wherever it may lie, and a good argument has been made that it is simply not fair on men who have sex with men that they should not have the same sort of protection as heterosexual men. If for no other reason, that demands that I make further inquiry.”