Health charity: Extending HPV vaccine for boys and gay men can prevent cancer

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Campaigners say offering HPV vaccinations to adolescent boys and gay and bisexual men could help stop cancer.

A vaccination programme against the human papillomavirus (HPV) 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 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.

HPV Action said the virus is responsible for 5% of all cancers worldwide.

“We have an incredible opportunity here to fight cancer with a simple jab,” said the charity’s spokesman Peter Baker.

“Most ways of fighting cancer involve losing weight or exercising more or changing lifestyles radically. This involves a simple vaccination which costs £45.”

It is estimated that vaccinating 367,000 boys aged 12 each year would cost £24m.

Mr Baker added: “We should be investing more in this programme because further down the health chain it costs a colossal amount of money to treat cancer.”

Last November, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) agreed to set up a working group on possibly offering HPV vaccinations to adolescent boys and gay and bisexual men.

Conservative MP Mike Freer had previously challenged the government to address the issue, saying it was neglecting the sexual health needs of gay men.

In response to HPV Action, a Department of Health spokesman said: “More than 80% of girls are now vaccinated against HPV, however we recognise that the current vaccination programme does not offer protection against HPV-related cancers to gay men, which is why the JCVI has set up a sub-committee to assess whether the programme should be extended to adolescent boys, men who have sex with men, or both.”