At present only girls are immunised to the HPV virus - we think everyone is at risk.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a common infection that can be easily passed on through skin-to-skin contact, including during sex.
Four types of human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause genital infections. They cause most cases of cervical cancer in women as well as genital warts and other cancers, including oral and anal cancer, in both men and women.
Since 2008, the HPV vaccination programme has immunised girls aged 12-13, but we also think that in the interest of public health and fairness, boys should be vaccinated as well.
The risks - genital warts and cervical cancer
We welcomed the Government’s decision in 2008 to implement a vaccination programme for HPV in order to reduce cervical cancer rates. In 2010 there were nearly 3,000 diagnoses of cervical cancer leading to around 1,000 deaths in the UK.
While genital warts are clearly not as dangerous as cervical cancer, they can still have a physical and emotional impact on the person affected. HPV Action estimates that there are 48,000 new cases of genital warts in men each year and 39,000 new cases in women in each year. It is estimated that the annual cost of treating genital warts is £58.5 million, with more spent on men as they are more likely to be diagnosed with the virus.
We support the Government’s decision to vaccinate against the four types of HPV from 2012. There are over 100 different strains of HPV. Two types are known to be responsible for seven in 10 cases of cervical cancer, as well as other cancers, while two other types are linked to at least nine in 10 cases of genital warts.
In 2008 the Government decided to use the Cervarix vaccine, which protects against the cancer types only, rather than the quadrivalent Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the four types. The Government’s reason for choosing Cervarix was the immediate cost saving. We think the decision to use Gardasil from 2012 has saved the NHS more money in the long-term, as well as reducing the considerable distress caused by genital warts.
Who else should be vaccinated?
We believe boys should be included in the HPV vaccination programme. There is increasing evidence of HPV-related head and neck cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer in men, as well as warts.
While rates of HPV infection in heterosexual males will be cut indirectly over time because of the vaccination of girls, rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) are likely to increase. This is despite the Government's recent announcement that MSM aged up to 45 years old will be offered the vaccine via sexual health clinics. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, most MSM don't visit a sexual health clinic until they are aged 28 years old and many never attend at all. The efficacy of this vaccine increases significantly if administered before the onset of sexual activity. That's why we are calling on the Government to offer the HPV vaccination to all boys aged 12/13 years old in school, as is already the case for their female counterparts. This is clearly the most effective way to protect everyone from HPV.
We are pleased that the Government are considering offering the HPV vaccination to people living with HIV. People living with HIV are at a greater risk of cervical and anal cancers, and warts can be much more complicated and expensive to treat as they have a more serious impact on people living with HIV.
HPV vaccine in Scotland and Wales
From July 2017, a vaccine against HPV is available in Scotland for MSM who are up to and including 45 years of age. The introduction of the programme comes after a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
The vaccine is available from sexual health services or a HIV clinic. For more information see the Immunisation Scotland website.
The vaccine is also available to MSM who are up to and including 45 years of age in Wales.
With Scotland and Wales both providing the HPV vaccine to MSM on the NHS, we hope that England will terminate their current HPV trial and follow suit.