Government Accused Of "Stalling" Over HPV Vaccine For Men
The Terence Higgins Trust has criticised the decision to give a vaccine that helps prevent genital warts, penile cancer, and anal cancer to only a small group of men.
The government has announced it will make the vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) – which can cause cancers and genital warts – available to men on the NHS but only for a select sample, prompting a furious response from Britain's biggest HIV charity.
Currently, all schoolgirls aged 11-14 are already given the vaccine to prevent HPV from triggering cervical cancer in women, but neither boys nor men are offered the jab to stop penile and anal cancers.
Health minister Jane Ellison pledged on Thursday to offer the injection from June in a pilot study in England and Wales but failed to promise a full rollout across the male population.
"Through this pilot, the HPV vaccine will be offered during existing appointments at selected GUM [sexual health] and HIV clinics in England to test delivery in these settings," she said.
"Public Health England is in the process of agreeing which GUM and HIV clinics will take part in the pilot. A full rollout of a HPV vaccination programme for men who have sex with men will be dependent on the progress and outcome of the pilot."
But Dr Shaun Griffin from the Terrence Higgins Trust said: "The announcement of this pilot feels like a cynical stalling tactic," and said the measure was "small-scale and unnecessary".
"The evidence is already there," he said. "More test sites will only delay implementation of a full national programme where all men who have sex with men are given this life-saving vaccine which could prevent them from getting cancer."
Such a large-scale move is "vital", he said, but "to be most effective, the HPV vaccine must be made available widely to all boys before they are sexually active."
Unlike many vaccines, the HPV jab can be effective even after an individual is infected, by flooding the body with the antiviral treatment.
In November 2015, the group that advises the British government on vaccination recommended all men up the age of 45 be given the injection. The intervention, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, prompted widespread expectation among sexual health doctors that they would be able to vaccinate all men deemed at risk of the virus.
Any man who has had any form of sexual or genital contact with another man, even once, is at risk of contracting the virus. And last year a group of prominent doctors accused the government of homophobic discrimination for not offering the jab to all gay and bisexual men. Every year in Britain, 2,000 men are diagnosed with cancers caused by the virus, including anal, penile, throat, tongue, tonsil, and mouth cancer.
TV doctor and sexual health advocate Christian Jessen told BuzzFeed News in 2015 it was "negligent" and "nonsensical" not to give men and boys the vaccine. Dr Rosemary Leonard MBE said not to do so was "sexual discrimination against men". And Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail medical columnist and editor of Spectator Health magazine, told BuzzFeed News: "The government is letting gay and bisexual men die of cancer."