The decision of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to collate evidence on the merits of extending the HPV vaccine to young gay men has been welcomed by Conservative MP Mike Freer.
He debated extending the vaccination programme with Health Minister Anna Soubry in the Commons earlier this year.
Mr Freer, who represents Finchley and Golders Green 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 Terrence Higgins Trust 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.”
Mr Freer added: “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.”
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.
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.
Straight men gain protection from the virus through herd immunity if women are vaccinated, but no such protection is afforded to gay men.
Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Britain’s largest sexual health charity, reacted with dismay at the comments – particularly as the DOH stated “there is little benefit in vaccinating boys to prevent cervical cancer in girls” – when the actual focus of the debate was on extending the vaccine to prevent future cancers in gay men.
THT’s Daisy Ellis said: “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.”
A Department of Health 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.
“Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the JCVI because once 80% coverage among girls has been achieved, there is little benefit in vaccinating boys to prevent cervical cancer in girls. 80% coverage for the full course of three doses of the vaccine was achieved in the first year of the HPV vaccination programme in 2008/09, and has since exceeded that level.”
Meanwhile on Thursday evening the Scottish Government issued a similar position to health officials in England – stating that Scotland would not be extending its HPV vaccination programme to include young gay men although it will “consider carefully any further advice the JCVI may provide on this.”