New HPV programme causes controversy

Parliament

The government today announced a trial rollout of HPV vaccination for men who have sex with men in England. The programme is intended to immunise 40,000 people, to be followed by a review of its impact.

Health Minister Jane Ellison commented, “Through this pilot, the HPV vaccine will be offered during existing appointments at selected GUM and HIV clinics in England to test delivery in these settings.

However Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s biggest HIV and sexual health charity, expressed its disappointment that government plans to make the HPV vaccine available to all men who have sex with men have been scaled down to an ‘unnecessary pilot’. The charity believes this will only delay the implementation of a full national vaccination programme for bi, gay and other men who have sex with men, which is needed now.

HPV is a common STI which, if left untreated, can cause a range of cancers, as well as genital warts.

Dr Shaun Griffin, Executive Director of External Affairs at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said, ‘There is no doubt that men who have sex with men (MSM) are at high risk of HPV which, if left untreated, can cause head, neck, penile and anal cancers.

‘But the announcement of this pilot feels like a cynical stalling tactic. Back in November, the government said that all MSM up to the age of 45 would be able to access the HPV vaccine across the country – now, six months later, we are disappointed to see this has been scaled down to a small-scale and unnecessary pilot.

‘We know there is a clinic in North West London which already give HPV vaccinations to MSM, with fantastic take-up and results, so there is simply no need for another pilot – the evidence is already there. 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.

‘Vaccinating all MSM against HPV would be a vital step, but to be most effective, the HPV vaccine must be made available widely to all boys before they are sexually active. Currently girls receive the vaccine in schools.’