HPV vaccine to be offered to men who have sex with men

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A UK government body has recommended that HPV vaccinations, currently only given to girls, are also offered to men who have sex with men.

A vaccination programme began in 2008 among school-age girls to tackle the human papilloma virus, which spreads through genital or oral contact and can cause cancers.

Only girls were vaccinated on the grounds that men who only have sex with women would also be protected from transmission through ‘herd immunity’ – but the move left gay men without any protection from HPV.

After the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation last year suggested that the vaccine be extended, this week the JCVI has confirmed recommendations that the vaccine be made available to men who have sex with men under the age of 45.

The JCVI officially confirmed this week that “a targeted HPV vaccination programme for MSM aged up to 45 who attend GUM and HIV clinics should be undertaken.”

It adds that it should also be offered to at-risk groups including transgender women, sex workers, HIV-positive women, and HIV-positive men.

However, campaigners have called for an even wider rollout, vaccinating all school-age boys.

Terrence Higgins Trust exec Dr Shaun Griffin said: “This is an important step in the right direction but it is unfortunately not enough.

“We need a gender-neutral vaccination programme so that all boys are covered. This vaccine should continue to be administered in schools – as is the case currently for all girls – but children of both genders receive it in this setting, before they are sexually active, enhancing the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“There are clearly equalities issues here with the vaccine currently being available widely for girls but not boys, now that the case has been made for its use in MSM.

“The government must prioritise a gender-neutral vaccine as a matter of urgency and we will continue to campaign for its availability.

He added: “The government already spends £60 million per year on treating genital warts which if left untreated can cause head and neck, penile and anal cancers.

“It is estimated that it would cost just £22 million per year to make the HPV vaccine available to all school-aged boys.”

Rob Young of NUS LGBT+ said: “This is a huge advancement in bridging the gap health care inequalities for LGBT individuals, but this vaccination should be extended to all boys from an early age in order for the vaccination to be at its most effective.

“We know that statistically men who sleep with men are more prone to anal and throat cancers because of HPV.

“I hope that its implementation through GUM and HIV clinics will ensure we are vaccinating as many men who have sex with men as possible for it to be a truly preventative measure.

“The government already spends £60 million per year on treating genital warts, which if left untreated can cause head and neck, penile and anal cancers.”