New Zealand’s Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee is considering a government-funded human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program specifically targeting males aged 11 to 25 who identify as men who have sex with men (MSM).
The vaccine Gardisil is currently available to girls aged 12 to 18 in New Zealand as a means of reducing the risk of cervical cancer associated with HPV, and is included in the regular school-based immunisation schedule. However, MSM are also at risk of HPV-related cancers, including anal and throat cancers, and the vaccine reduces the risk of genital warts in males and females.
The Committee suggested targeting this group due to the huge costs of vaccinating all teenagers, and because young gay men receive no “herd immunity” from contact with HPV-immunised females.
Auckland-based queer and trans peer support and advocacy group Rainbow Youth has welcomed the proposal, but joins other experts in calling for caution around a program that could further isolate young queer people. The program would require boys to self-identify and approach vaccination services, a delicate process for young men still understanding their sexuality.
Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner said while boys should be vaccinated before they become sexually active, she favours targeting slightly older boys who may be more aware of their sexuality.