New Zealand is considering whether to immunize males aged 11 to 25 against the HPV virus but it is likely the country will take the cheapskate approach of only immunizing those who identify as same-sex attracted.
In neighboring Australia beginning in 2013, all boys and girls aged 12 to 13 can receive the HPV vaccine regardless of sexuality through school based vaccination programs.
HPV, responsible for genital warts, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in New Zealand and is often non-symptomatic meaning people can spread the virus without knowing.
However the New Zealand Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee has suggested that vaccinating all boys would be too expensive, suggesting that the South Pacific nation may go with the cheaper approach of only vaccinating those boys who admit their same-sex attraction – potentially missing many young males who are in the closet or in denial about their feeling.
HPV causes cervical cancers in women and anal cancers in gay men. It also causes head and neck and penile cancers in men more generally but the greatest cancer risk is for heterosexual women and gay men.
‘Members noted that herd immunity from increased coverage for females would provide no benefit to males who have sex with males (MSM) and that this group would benefit from vaccination,’ the advisory committee’s vaccination subcommittee noted in March.
‘Members also noted that males of target age (11 to 18 years) would be largely naive to future sexual orientation, and concerns around labeling may influence uptake … [However] the Subcommittee noted that the cost of widening access to all males would be substantial.’
The subcommittee said that heterosexual males would not need be immunized so long as female vaccination rates were above 80% but currently only 51% of girls in New Zealand receive the vaccine.
HIV research fellow at the Dunedin School of Medicine Dr Peter Saxton told GayNZ.com he recommended extending vaccination to all boys in New Zealand.
‘Implementing vaccine uptake among very young gay men who don't feel safe disclosing their sexuality is a challenge but also one that could be overcome by extending coverage to all young men,’ Saxton said.
‘There are serious health equity issues raised by having a vaccine that is this effective but not providing it to one of the highest need groups, especially when gay men receive no indirect benefit through the vaccination of young women.’
‘Any approach to covering gay men will have its imperfections but we shouldn't lose sight of the enormous public health benefits that are possible.’