In a significant move, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has agreed to set up a working group on possibly offering HPV vaccinations to adolescent boys and gay and bisexual men.

In the minutes of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) October meeting, the committee agreed that “consideration of options for vaccinating men who have sex with men (MSM) should be prioritised.”

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.

The north London gay MP Mike Freer has campaigned extensively at Westminster to get the government to address the issue. 

The minutes made reference to Mr Freers’ debate on extending the vaccination programme with Health Minister Anna Soubry in the Commons earlier this year. 

In September, the Department of Health (DOH) said it had no plans to extend the HPV vaccine to young 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.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government also 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.”