Jabs for the boys: how the Campaign for gender-neutral HPV Vaccination was won in the UK.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause a range of cancers as well as genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis in men and women. Most cases can be prevented by vaccination in adolescence. Many countries vaccinate girls and an increasing number, although still a minority, vaccinate both boys and girls. The case for vaccinating boys is based on arguments of public health, equity, ethics and cost-effectiveness. The selective vaccination of females does not protect males sufficiently and provides no protection at all for men who have sex with men. In the United Kingdom (UK), the government’s vaccination advisory committee (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI]) began to consider whether boys should be vaccinated as well as girls in 2013 and made clear in draft statements that it considered this not to be cost-effective. A campaign group, HPV Action, was established to advocate gender-neutral vaccination. This group became a coalition of over 50 organisations and used evidence-based arguments, political advocacy and media campaigning to make its case. One of its members initiated legal action against the government on the grounds of sex discrimination. In July 2018, the government agreed that boys in the UK should be vaccinated. The lessons for other campaigns in the men’s and public health fields include: be prepared for the long haul, focus on clear and specific goals, build alliances, align the objectives with existing policies, make a financial case for a change of policy, and use all legitimate means to exert pressure.
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