UK: Committee recommends HPV vaccine for gay and bisexual men

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Men who have sex with men (MSM) should be vaccinated against the HPV virus to protect them against several types of cancer, a committee of experts has declared.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the move would be cost effective.

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.

There are 48,000 cases of genital warts in UK men each year.

The JCVI’s latest report recommends offering the jab at sexual health clinics to men who have sex with men, aged between 16 and 40.

It said: “Although such a programme would be very likely to prevent HPV associated cancers in men who have sex with men, the model had indicated that an even more substantial benefit could be realised from the prevention of ano-genital warts.”

Campaigners have welcomed the move but say the vaccine should not be restricted to sexual health clinics.

HPV Action’s Campaign Director Peter Baker said “HPV Action hopes the government now moves quickly to a decision to vaccinate all boys. While vaccinating MSM is a step forward, it is not sufficient to protect the UK population as a whole from the human papillomavirus and the entirely preventable diseases it causes. As things stand, the UK government is still putting parents in a position where they can see their daughters protected but not their sons.”

HPV Action said the move “will not protect the majority” of men who have sex with men if it is offered only at sexual health clinics.

Daisy Ellis, Acting Policy Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We welcome this recommendation from the JCVI, who have clearly recognised the current approach to vaccination leaves groups including gay and bisexual men out in the cold and at increased risk of infection. Offering vaccinations to gay men through sexual health clinics can help with this, but – as the vaccine is less effective if a person is already sexually active – for some, it will not provide maximum protection.

“Extending HPV vaccination to all boys is the only approach that would ensure all young people are given equal protection, something we will continue to campaign for. In the mean time, we urge the Department of Health to work with Local Authorities and Public Health England to implement the JCVI’s recommendation. The evidence-based recommendation has been made, so the relevant bodies now need to come together and make this happen.”

The government said it would wait for a direct recommendation by the JCVI before responding.

In November 2013, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation 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.