Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection that can be easily passed on through skin-to-skin contact, including during sex.
Four strains of HPV can cause genital infections. They cause most cases of cervical cancer in women as well as other cancers in both men and women, including oral and anal cancer, and genital warts.
HPV continues to impact on boys and men. In Britain each year, HPV causes around 1,400 head and neck cancers, 350 penile cancers, and nearly 400 anal cancers.
We believe the availability of the HPV vaccine should be gender neutral.
Genital warts 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.
In England, all girls are offered the HPV vaccine in school in Year 9 (aged 13-14 years).
Since April 2018, all gay and bisexual men (up to the age of 45) have been offered the HPV vaccine through sexual health clinics. This followed a successful England-wide trial.
Despite pressure from the HPV Action coalition, of which we’re a member, Public Health England has yet to decide on whether to extend the HPV vaccine provision to include boys. In September 2017, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation disappointingly postponed its decision until further information becomes available.
Following comments by the UK Government, a final decision is due to be made in 2018 on whether to extend the vaccine to boys. The Department for Health and Social Care is also expected to carry out an assessment on what equalities impact there could be should boys continues to be excluded from receiving the vaccine.
In Scotland and Wales, all girls are offered the HPV vaccine in school. All gay and bisexual men have been offered the HPV vaccine in sexual health clinics since 2017.
Among eligible girls around 15% did not complete the vaccine course in 2016/17. This presents a real and pressing challenge to ensure that both girls and boys are fully protected from HPV in adult life.
We believe that access to the HPV vaccine should not be based on gender, as everyone is at risk. There is increasing evidence of HPV-related head and neck cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer in men, as well as warts.
While we welcomed the rollout of the programme for girls and gay and bisexual men, there remain pressing questions about how to protect the wider population from HPV.
There are a number of scenarios that could put men and any subsequent partners at risk, for example, if a man has sex with a woman who was too old to be eligible for the HPV vaccine programme or a woman from a country that does not have an HPV vaccine programme.
We also know that sexual health services in England are under continued pressure due to cuts in funding. This could impact the success of the rollout of the vaccine for gay and bisexual men.
We believe the current eligibility rules pose serious risks to public health across Britain.
Therefore, we’re calling on the UK Government and the governments in Wales and Scotland to make the HPV vaccine gender neutral to ensure that everyone can be fully protected from HPV.
If you have any questions about the campaign, please contact Liam Beattie, our Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer, on [email protected].