Thousands of gay and bisexual men could be saved from cancer if British scientists decide to offer them a simple vaccine today (22 September).
The panel will discuss whether to offer men who have sex with men a vaccine for HPV, the infection which causes 5% of all cancers worldwide. While most known to be a cause of cervical cancer, the often sexually transmitted virus can also cause cancer in the throat, anus and penis.
Men who have sex with men are at higher risk of being infected with the virus, and therefore more at risk of developing cancer.
More than 2,000 men every year develop cancer from HPV in the UK. If the committee agrees, we will see a tremendous drop in this number.
Gay rights campaigners say restricting the policy to just girls at the age of 12 and 13 is ‘foolish, immoral and has a whiff of homophobia’.
HPV experts from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will investigate whether to extend the vaccine to gay and bisexual men, all boys at the age of 12 and 13, or both.
They will announce their decision, which will be passed to the main committee, in October.
Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay rights campaigner that has called for the vaccine to be extended to gay and bisexual men, told Gay Star News:
'HPV doesn't just affect girls and women, it also has an impact on boys and young men including those who are gay or bisexual.
'HPV is a health threat. The vaccination should be made available to everyone at potential risk. The cost of the vaccine will be much less than treating people who become infected with the virus.
'The government's current policy of denying the vaccine to gay and bisexual men at risk is foolish, immoral and has a whiff of homophobia.
'It is causing ill health and costing the NHS needless expense in treating a preventable infection.'
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said vaccinating all boys would help to protect girls from cancer, as well as protecting men who have sex with men.
It would also mean gay and bisexual men would no longer be excluded from herd immunity, a form that protects straight boys from infection as around 85% of girls are protected from the virus.
'Since introducing the HPV vaccination for girls in 2008, we have seen incredible uptake and sharp declines in HPV infection rates but we must ensure that boys, who don't profit from herd immunity can also reap these benefits,' she said, as reported by the BBC.
'Herd immunity only works in later life for males who are sexually active with females who have been vaccinated - it won't work for men who are sexually active in countries where the vaccine isn't available, those who have sex with men, or those who have sex with the estimated 15% of girls who haven't had the vaccine.'
It is estimated offering the vaccine to boys would cost the NHS about £20-22 million ($33-36 million, €25-28 million) a year. Countries that already offer the vaccine to males include the US and Australia.