Department of Health ‘awaiting advice’ on extending HPV vaccine to gay men

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The Department of Health has responded to calls to vaccinate boys against the HPV virus as well as girls, to protect gay men.

A vaccination programme against the human papilloma virus – which spreads through genital or oral contact – began among girls in the UK in 2008, on the grounds the move 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 protection is afforded to men who have sex with other men under the scheme.

The Department of Health has reacted to calls this week for the HPV to be extended to boys.

A Department of Health spokesperson told PinkNews: “The HPV vaccination programme is key to helping us prevent cervical cancer.

“We have successfully administered nearly eight million doses since 2008 and almost 90 per cent of girls in England completed the three-dose course last year alone.

“We recognise that the programme does not currently offer protection against HPV for men who have sex with men, which is why our independent vaccine advisors, The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation are currently working on this with the aim of providing us with their advice soon.”

The Joint Committee recommended that the vaccine be extended in November last year.

TV presenter and sexual health specialist Dr Christian Jessen called for a change earlier this week, telling Buzzfeed: “It is discrimination. It’s backwards and negligent. It’s non-science as well as being nonsensical.

“If you look at basic vaccine principles, you need to vaccinate enough of the population to shut down an infection – like with smallpox and polio. To only vaccinate 50% of the population doesn’t make sense. It’s flying in the face of evidence.

“As soon as the government announced the vaccine was for girls, all of us working in the field said, ‘What about the boys?’ The noise was immediately there and has been constantly there, and it has taken a very long time for anything to happen. That is odd when other countries are giving the vaccine to boys quite happily.”

“My message to Jeremy Hunt is: I understand there’s a need to economise, but this is entirely a false economy and will leave a whole cohort of the population at risk of problems caused by HPV which will be very costly to treat – more costly than the vaccine.”