The Department of Health’s decision not to support extending the HPV vaccine to young gay men has been criticised by the Terrence Higgins Trust.
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.
In a statement to PinkNews.co.uk, Britain’s largest sexual health charity said it was “extremely disappointed’ at the Department of Health (DOH), after an official said there was “currently no plans to extend HPV vaccination to males, based on an assessment of currently available scientific evidence”.
The DOH official added: “Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation because once 80% coverage among girls has been achieved, there is little benefit in vaccinating boys to prevent cervical cancer in girls.”
Daisy Ellis, head of parliamentary & public affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), replied: “We are extremely disappointed at the Department of Health’s response on this issue, which has missed the point entirely. This is not about achieving universal vaccination amongst girls, but protecting gay and bisexual men from a growing health issue.
“Currently, gay men are 15 times more likely to develop the types of cancer related to HPV than straight men are, and this rate will continue to rise while vaccinations are restricted to girls. This is a health inequality, plain and simple. We’re not aware of any other area of health policy where a group is being so clearly excluded.”
Doctor Christian Jessen, the presenter of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies series, also tweeted his disappointment at the DOH’s position.
— Dr Christian Jessen (@DoctorChristian) September 19, 2013
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.”
THT, the British Medical Association and the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, have long called for the HPV vaccine to be extended to include men.
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.