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Is it Cheaper to Let Gay Men Get Anal Cancer Than Give Them a Vaccine?

Is it Cheaper to Let Gay Men Get Anal Cancer Than Give Them a Vaccine?


U.K. officials delayed the HPV vaccine for gay and bi men over "cost-effectiveness” after noting that chemotherapy treatments for anal cancer have shown improved survival.

A new report suggests that gay and bisexual men in England may not initially get the HPV vaccine because it isn’t “cost effective” compared to the expense of treating anal cancer. This shocking allegation came after he U.K. Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization delayed access for men who have sex with men until 2017 or later.

The United Kingdom’s HPV vaccine program was originally designed for girls aged 12 - 13 years; but was then extended to boys of the same age. The Committee was expected to "at least approve giving the life-saving jabs to men who have sex with men,” according to Gay Star News  

“We are hugely disappointed that a much needed decision to introduce HPV vaccination for gay and bisexual men has once again been pulled further from our grasp,” Dr Shaun Griffin told Gay Star News in response to the announced postponement. “Each delay leaves this group unprotected against HPV-related cancers. These inequalities urgently need to be addressed.”

The Center for the Biology of Chronic Disease (CBCD), a British non-profit medical research organization, released a statement reiterating the importance of prevention in treating HPV: “There are no drugs approved against the HPV. Current treatments include procedures, such as cryotherapy, conization, and the Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP). These procedures use liquid nitrogen, a surgical knife (scalpel), a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, or electrical current to remove the abnormal growths caused by the HPV. These growths include cells that harbor the active virus. The procedures do not target cells with the latent virus. Since they do not remove the latent virus, these procedures only produce a temporary remission.”

CBCD argues that access to the HPV vaccine is particularly important for gay and bisexual men because rates of HPV and the cancers it causes are as high among men who have sex with men as they are in women. According to the organization, each year 47,500 British men get genital warts from the virus and over 2,000 men contract anal, oral, or penile cancers as a result. 

Delaying the time when the vaccine becomes available can have long term impacts because the vaccine will not prevent diseases in those who are already infected.

Official records released from the U.K. Committee on Vaccination and Immunization indicate that the government agency considered a number of factors before deciding to postpone access to gay and bisexual men including, “published data on chemotherapy for anal cancer…[which] showed improved survival.”

Gay Star News reports that the Committeee’s position has angered the U.K. gay community, as it suggests the government believes “it might be cheaper to let gay men get anal cancer and then treat it, rather than prevent it.” 

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall