Ireland offers HPV vaccine to gay men, as ‘girls-only’ approach leaves them unprotected
Men who have sex with men are to be offered HPV vaccines in Ireland from January.
A vaccination programme began in 2010 among school-age girls in the Republic of Ireland to tackle the human papilloma virus, which spreads through genital or oral contact and can cause a number of cancers.
Only girls were vaccinated, on the grounds that men who have sex with women would logically also be protected from transmission through ‘herd immunity’.
However, advocates complained that relying on a ‘herd immunity’ plan left gay men vulnerable. As gay men have sex with eachother and not exclusively with women, they are effectively left without any protection from HPV spreads.
The Irish government confirmed this week that it would begin offering HPV vaccines to men who have sex with men.
Fiona Lyons, Clinical Lead in Sexual Health at Ireland’s Health Service Executive, announced at a sexual health conference this weekend that the HPV vaccine will be made available to men who have sex with men and to people living with HIV.
Dr Lyons said: “From January 2017, the HPV Vaccination will be made available to men who have sex with men aged between 16 and 26 years, through public STI Services.
“The vaccine will help to prevent HPV infection which can cause HPV-associated cancers and genital warts.
“It is important that MSM have access to the HPV Vaccine because they do not benefit from the herd immunity conferred through vaccinating adolescent girls.
“The HPV vaccination has been made available to men and women living with HIV under 26 years of age since October through HSE HIV Services”.
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In the UK, the vaccine was made available to men who have sex with men on a trial basis earlier this year, through sexual health centres.
A new HIV testing initiative was also announced.
Minister for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, warned: “The increases in the sexually transmitted infections and HIV, particularly among men who have ex with men, is cause for concern and we know that late diagnosis of HIV remains a problem.
“At the launch of the strategy last year, my Department provided funding to pilot a peer led, point of care HIV testing initiative in pubs and clubs.
“This pilot has had considerable success in identifying new cases of HIV. As we all know, earlier diagnosis of HIV allows for timely initiation of treatment which confers significant benefits to the individual living with HIV and reduces transmission within the population.
“The HSE is currently reviewing how this method of testing might be further rolled out in 2017.”