The UK government has announced that it will offer the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine to Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) aged up to 45 via at its GUM (sexual health) clinics.
This group is the most likely to acquire HPV among men, which can lead to penile, anal and throat cancers, as well as genital and anal warts.
Researchers say that the risk of gay men developing anal cancer caused by HPV is more than 15 times higher than it is among straight men.
While the move was welcomed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, the group noted that school-aged boys will remain unprotected from HPV-related conditions unless they visit a GUM clinic.
At the moment, only girls are given the HPV vaccine in UK schools to avoid cervical cancer.
“This is an important step in the right direction but it is unfortunately not enough,” commented Dr Shaun Griffin, Executive Director External Affairs, Terrence Higgins Trust.
“We need a gender-neutral vaccination programme so that all boys are covered. This vaccine should continue to be administered in schools – as is the case currently for all girls – but children of both genders should receive it in this setting, before they are sexually active, enhancing the vaccine’s effectiveness.”
In South Africa, the vaccine is also not given to boys in the public health sector but it can be provided by a private doctor, if requested. Vaccinating against HPV should ideally take place before a person becomes sexually active.