Calls for a vaccination programme against the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus (HPV) to be extended to include teenage boys have been rejected by the Scottish Government.
Girls aged 12-13 already receive a jab at high school protecting them against the infection which can cause cervical cancer. Earlier two separate health bodies had called on the Department of Health at Westminster to extend the programme to include boys due to increased rates of oral sex in the population.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The primary aim of the HPV vaccination programme is to protect girls against cervical cancer, rather than protecting against the risks associated with HPV overall.
“Scientific evidence indicates that if at least 80% of girls are immunised, boys will be adequately protected from the main cancer causing HPV because there will be fewer HPV viruses circulating in the population. Uptake rates in girls in secondary school for completed courses of HPV vaccination in Scotland are currently well in excess of 80%.”
However this response and the aims of the HPV programme in Scotland do not address the risks for men who have sex with men. Treating around 80% of the women in the country would seem to have very little impact on the risks for young gay men for example.
Both the Faculty of Public Health and the British Association for Sexual Health have called for the extension to the programme to help prevent the spread of HPV which is associated with cancer of the genitals, mouth and throat.
The Scottish Government went on to say: “We take advice on vaccination programmes from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The JCVI does not currently recommend vaccination of boys or men against the HPV virus. We will consider carefully any further advice the JCVI may provide on this.”
A Department of Health England, spokesperson said: “The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) keeps the eligibility criteria of all vaccination programmes under review, and research is underway to support a future assessment of vaccinating men who have sex with men against HPV. However, there are currently no plans to extend HPV vaccination to males, based on an assessment of currently available scientific evidence.
Speaking from the House of Commons in July, Conservative MP Mike Freer said: “I cannot understand why the previous government introduced a scheme that so wilfully neglected the sexual health needs of men, particularly the homosexual community. I am adamant the current government must review the vaccine contract and change this sorry state of affairs.”
Health Minister Anna Soubry confirmed in July 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”.
On Thursday evening, Mr Freer told PinkNews.co.uk: “It is encouraging that momentum is building for boys and men who have sex with men (MSM) to be included in the HPV vaccination programme. Following the parliamentary debate, I took representatives of THT to meet with Health Minister Anna Soubry. We were able to have a conference call on the issue with the Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation.
“The JCVI confirmed that they are now collating evidence on the efficacy of including boys and MSM in the vaccination programme. This is a major step forward but we must maintain the pressure to ensure girls, boys and MSM are protected against HPV related cancers.”