The HPV vaccine is to be made publicly available to young men who have sex with men (MSM), the HSE has announced.
The vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer and genital warts, will be provided to MSM aged between 16 years and 26 years from next January, according to Dr Fiona Lyons, HSE clinical lead for sexual health.
Since 2012, the vaccine has been provided to girls in their early teens but a trenchant campaign of opposition has seen a falloff in the take-up rate from 87 per cent to about 50 per cent. The Regret group that campaigns against the Gardasil vaccine claims hundreds of girls have suffered serious health problems after receiving it, though scientists have found no evidence to support its assertions.
The vaccine will now be made available to MSM through public STI (sexually transmitted infections) clinics. “It is important that MSM have access to the HPV vaccine because they do not benefit from the herd immunity conferred through vaccinating adolescent girls.”
The vaccine has also been made available to men and women living with HIV under 26 years of age since last October.
The HSE intends to roll out availability of the vaccine to MSM and HIV groups aged from 26-45 later next year.
Dr Lyons said that since the jab was introduced in Australia for adolescent girls in 2007, the rate of genital warts among young girls and boys had plummeted.
The conference also heard of the efforts made to deal with rising incidence of HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea, largely among MSM, over the past two years.
HIV cases grew by 30 per cent and six out of 10 cases involve MSM, according to Dr Eve Robinson of the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
This year, for the first time, the number of cases in Ireland among men born in Latin America exceeded the number of cases among Irish-born men.
Other sexually transmitted infections are increasing and, worryingly, some are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, she said.
A survey of sexual behaviour among MSM found evidence of risky behaviour, the abuse of drugs and alcohol as contributory factors and a lack of regular testing. One in four MSM reported having condomless anal intercourse with a non-steady partner and one in three had never tested for HIV.
Dr Lyons and Dr Robinson were speaking at the the first HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme conference at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.