UK Government: No plans to extend the HPV vaccine to gay men

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

The Department of Health says it has no plans to extend the HPV vaccine to young gay men.

A vaccination programme against the human papillomavirus began in 2008 in the UK, but only among girls, on the grounds that this would curb the spread of the infection to boys as well.

Heterosexual men gain protection from the virus through herd immunity if women are vaccinated, but no such protection is afforded to gay men.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is known to spread through genital or oral contact.

It can cause cervical, penile, anal and throat cancers, as well as genital and anal warts.

Dr Janet Wilson, the president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: “We need to take action to address the lack of protection men who have sex with men receive from the current all-girls HPV vaccination programme.

“It is unfair that they remain unprotected.”

But an official at the Department for Health (DOH) told the BBC on Thursday that there is “currently no plans to extend HPV vaccination to males, based on an assessment of currently available scientific evidence”.

They added: “Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation because once 80% coverage among girls has been achieved, there is little benefit in vaccinating boys to prevent cervical cancer in girls.”

A study published in July showed one third of people diagnosed with throat cancer are infected with a form of HPV.

Most people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime, and in most cases the immune system will offer protection.

With around 100 different strains, there are two which are most likely to cause cancer – HPV-16 and HPV-18.

HPV-16 is thought to be responsible for around 60% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers and 60% of oral cancers.

Around 1,500 people are diagnosed with throat cancers each year in the UK, with around 470 people dying from the disease.

In January, the British Medical Association (BMA) told the Department of Health that the vaccine should be extended to young gay men.

Conservative MP Mike Freer has campaigned extensively at Westminster to get the government to address the issue.

During a Commons debate with Health Minister Anna Soubry on 2 July, Ms Soubry confirmed she would instruct the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) “to look at how best to vaccinate boys, girls, women and men” as a “matter of urgency”.