We think everyone is at risk and should be protected.
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 2017, gay and bisexual men (aged 45 and under) in Scotland and Wales have been offered the HPV vaccine. Following a successful national pilot, England will also make the vaccine available to gay and bisexual men through sexual health clinics from April 2018. We are calling for this implementation to be done as swiftly as possible.
Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we know that the efficacy of the vaccine is significantly increased when administered before someone is sexually active. Most gay and bisexual men will not visit a sexual health clinic until they become sexually active and many never attend at all.
That’s why we are calling on the governments in England, Wales and Scotland to offer the HPV vaccine to all boys 12 or 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.
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?
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.
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, this will not protect those males having sexual contact with females from outside of the UK.