The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is very common. Around 8 out of 10 people will be infected with it at some point in their lifetime, but people with HPV may not know that they are infected, as they often have no symptoms.
For most people, HPV goes away naturally in time. However, it can cause cervical cancer in women as well as genital warts in both genders. HPV can even lead to anal and throat cancers, but these are much more rare.
Discussion around the HPV vaccine has often centred on the treatment of women and girls, but men and boys can also benefit from it. Find out more about how HPV affects both men and women.
Where and how to get the HPV vaccine
First licensed in 2006, HPV vaccines were initially offered to girls in year 8. Currently the vaccine is offered to boys and girls aged 12-13 as part of the National Immunisation Programme. The NHS also offers the vaccine to females who didn’t receive it at school and are under 25, as well as men under 45 who have sex with men.
Gay men up to and including the age of 45 are eligible to get the HPV vaccination on the NHS for free when they visit GUM or HIV clinics. This is thanks to a new programme that began rolling out at these clinics in England in 2018.
Alternatively, anyone of any age can use the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor HPV Vaccination Service to get inoculated. Simply complete a short questionnaire and if you’re medically suitable, our doctors will prescribe you the vaccine, which can be administered at many LloydsPharmacy stores.
Benefits of the HPV vaccine for boys
The HPV vaccination programme in the UK works through herd immunity (which was initially just for girls, but now also targets boys). Vaccinating girls helped to indirectly protect boys from cancers and genital warts linked to infection with HPV because vaccinated girls will not pass HPV on to them. This premise goes both ways – vaccinated boys will prevent the disease from spreading to girls.
If you’re a male under the age of 15 you only need two doses, whereas this goes up to three after age 15. Men up to age 45 can also take the vaccine. It’s important to have all the required doses to be properly protected.
The benefits of the HPV vaccine for gay men
As mentioned before, the initial HPV vaccination programme benefited some boys via herd immunity. However, gay men did not benefit from the vaccine in the same way, even though they are also at risk of cancers of the anus, penis, mouth, and throat due to infection with HPV types 16 and 18. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are also at risk of genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11. Therefore getting the vaccine themselves will help to protect them from these conditions.
Potential side effects of the HPV vaccine
More than 1 in 10 people who have the HPV vaccine experience redness, swelling or pain at the site of the injection. Some other common side effects include:
- Bruising or itching at the site of the injection
- High temperature or feeling hot and shivery
- Pain in the arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet or toes