Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK's largest HIV and sexual health charity, today welcomed the announcement by the Government to extend the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine to Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) aged up to 45 via GUM clinics, but warned that to be most effective the vaccine must be made available widely to all boys before they are sexually active. Currently girls receive the vaccine in schools.
Today's decision means that MSM aged up to 45 - the group of men most likely to acquire HPV - will be able to access the HPV vaccine, but school-aged boys will remain unprotected from HPV-related conditions unless they visit a GUM clinic.
Terrence Higgins Trust is urging the government to provide a gender-neutral vaccine that covers boys as well as girls before they are sexually active. The HPV vaccine is available to all school girls aged 12-13 on the NHS.
A gender-neutral vaccine will help protect 400,000 boys every year, and reduce the risk they will acquire the common sexually transmitted virus that can cause a range of cancers, including penile, anal and oral, as well as genital warts.
Dr Shaun Griffin, Executive Director External Affairs, Terrence Higgins Trust:
"This is an important step in the right direction but it is unfortunately not enough. 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 receive it in this setting, before they are sexually active, enhancing the vaccine's effectiveness.
"There are clearly equalities issues here with the vaccine currently being available widely for girls but not boys, now that the case has been made for its use in MSM. The government must prioritise a gender-neutral vaccine as a matter of urgency and we will continue to campaign for its availability.
"The government already spends £60 million per year on treating genital warts which if left untreated can cause head and neck, penile and anal cancers. It is estimated that it would cost just £22 million per year to make the HPV vaccine available to all school-aged boys."
Guidance: JCVI statement on HPV vaccination of men who have sex with men, can be downloaded here.