The British Medical Association has said that the HPV vaccine, given to teenage girls and women to dramatically cut their chances of developing cervical cancer, should also be given to gay men.
Writing to Health minister Anne Sudbury, the BMA’s chairperson Colm O’ Mahoney said that increasing concern over a rise in HPV (human papillomavirus) diagnoses and anal warts in gay men, particularly those who are HIV positive, warranted advanced measures such as widening the HPV vaccination program.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that has been shown to cause cervical, penile, anal and throat cancers, as well as genital and anal warts.
A national program of vaccinating girls between the ages of 12 and 13 has been in place since September 2008, while older women can opt for a vaccination upon request.
Referencing data gathered in Australia, O’Mahoney noted that, while it is extremely difficult to identify young gay men for a vaccination program, the vaccine could be given to those men who sort advice and health checkups at medical clinics or community sexual health clinics, this possibly as an additional inoculation for patients already receiving the hepatitis B vaccination.
O’Mahoney is quoted as saying, “Australia has seen a phenomenal reduction in genital warts in a very short time… It would be best to give the vaccine to boys in the early teens, as for girls. But we recognise that is not cost effective at the moment. But we think if young gay men up to the age of 21 attending sexual health clinics are offered the vaccine the chances of the virus causing trouble will be very much reduced.”
Currently, the UK does not give young men the same vaccinations even though men do carry HPV and can pass it on to women. As noted above, this is purportedly due to economic considerations, though with rising cases of throat and esophageal cancers –which do affect men — this is a matter that is now being reconsidered.
Previously, Conservative Lord Norman Fowler wrote to the public health minister to say he felt gay men’s exclusion from the HPV vaccination program was “unfair.”
Quotes the Guardian, ”There is a clear inequity in the HPV vaccination programme offered to all 12- and 13-year-old girls. As the four strains of HPV vaccinated against are sexually transmitted, heterosexual males will eventually receive indirect protection against the related cancers and genital warts by a herd immunity effect. Men who have sex with men, meanwhile, receive no such protection, despite increasing rates of anal cancer in this group.”
This comes after the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – an expert panel who together advise the government on vaccination procedures – began gathering data on the topic last year.
The JCVI is expected to publish its findings later this year, with indications that it very well may widen the target group for the vaccinations, though how many that will encompass remains to be seen.
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