After years of campaigning, we welcomed the announcement by the UK Government that the HPV vaccine will be extended to boys in England. This followed similar announcements from the governments of Scotland and Wales.
We are continuing to push for a gender neutral vaccine to be introduced as soon as possible and also include a catch-up programme for boys aged up to 18 years old.
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.
Across England, Scotland, and Wales all girls are offered the HPV vaccine in school in Year 9 (aged 13-14 years).
Thanks to pressure from the HPV Action coalition, of which we’re a member, the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has advised that the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments should vaccinate all school-aged boys.
The Scottish Government has confirmed that it will be working with Health Protection Scotland and NHS Scotland to roll out the schools-based vaccination programme to boys as soon as practicable.
The Welsh Government has confirmed that it will be rolling out the programme to boys but has not yet given a timeframe for this.
In England, the UK Government has announced that it will be aiming for roll-out by September 2019, it has disappointingly also ruled out introducing a catch-up programme for boys and instead only providing the vaccine for boys aged 12 and 13.
Among eligible girls, around 15% did not complete the HPV 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.
In Wales and Scotland, all gay and bisexual men up to the age of 45 have been offered the HPV vaccine in sexual health clinics since 2017. England followed suit in April 2018, following a year-long pilot, however roll-out to eligible sexual health clinics has still not been completed.
We believe that access to the HPV vaccine should not be based on sex, as everyone is at risk. There is increasing evidence of HPV-related head and neck cancers, 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, as well as the planned rollout of the programme for boys in Scotland and Wales, there remain pressing questions about how to protect the wider population from HPV in England.
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 roll-out of the vaccine for gay and bisexual men.
Therefore, we’re calling on the Department of Health and Social Care to make a gender neutral vaccine available as soon as possible and for proactive measures to encourage uptake of the vaccine for anyone who is eligible.
If you have any questions about the campaign, please contact Alex Phillips, our Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer, on [email protected].