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PLoS Med. 2019 Mar 4;16(3):e1002756. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002756. eCollection 2019 Mar.

Potential effectiveness of prophylactic HPV immunization for men who have sex with men in the Netherlands: A multi-model approach.

Author information

Centre for Infectious Disease Control, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands.
Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Cluster of Infectious Diseases, Public Health Service of Amsterdam (GGD), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Amsterdam Infection & Immunity Institute, Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at high risk for anal cancer, primarily related to human papillomavirus genotype 16 (HPV16) infections. At 8.5 per 100,000 per year, the incidence rate of anal cancer among MSM is similar to that of cervical cancer among adult women in the Netherlands. However, MSM are not included in most HPV vaccination programs. We explored the potential effectiveness of prophylactic immunization in reducing anogenital HPV16 transmission among MSM in the Netherlands.


We developed a range of mathematical models for penile-anal HPV16 transmission, varying in sexual contact structure and natural history of infection, to provide robust and plausible predictions about the effectiveness of targeted vaccination. Models were informed by an observational cohort study among MSM in Amsterdam, 2010-2013. Parameters on sexual behavior and HPV16 infections were obtained by fitting the models to data from 461 HIV-negative study participants, considered representative of the local MSM population. We assumed 85% efficacy of vaccination against future HPV16 infections as reported for HIV-negative MSM, and age-specific uptake rates similar to those for hepatitis B vaccination among MSM in the Netherlands. Targeted vaccination was contrasted with vaccination of 12-year-old boys at 40% uptake in base-case scenarios, and we also considered the effectiveness of a combined strategy. Offering vaccine to MSM without age restrictions resulted in a model-averaged 27.3% reduction (90% prediction interval [PI] 11.9%-37.5%) in prevalence of anal HPV16 infections, assuming similar uptake among MSM as achieved for hepatitis B vaccination. The predicted reduction improved to 46.1% (90% PI 21.8%-62.4%) if uptake rates among MSM were doubled. The reductions in HPV16 infection prevalence were mostly achieved within 30 years of a targeted immunization campaign, during which they exceeded those induced by vaccinating 40% of preadolescent boys, if started simultaneously. The reduction in anal HPV16 prevalence amounted to 74.8% (90% PI 59.8%-93.0%) under a combined vaccination strategy. HPV16 prevalence reductions mostly exceeded vaccine coverage projections among MSM, illustrating the efficiency of prophylactic immunization even when the HPV vaccine is given after sexual debut. Mode of protection was identified as the key limitation to potential effectiveness of targeted vaccination, as the projected reductions were strongly reduced if we assumed no protection against future infections in recipients with prevalent infection or infection-derived immunity at the time of immunization. Unverified limitations of our study include the sparsity of data to inform the models, the omission of oral sex in transmission to the penile or anal site, and the restriction that our modeling results apply primarily to HIV-negative MSM.


Our findings suggest that targeted vaccination may generate considerable reductions in anogenital HPV16 infections among MSM, and has the potential to accelerate anal cancer prevention, especially when combined with sex-neutral vaccination in preadolescence.

Conflict of interest statement

I have read the journal's policy and the authors of this manuscript have the following competing interests: JAB, SHM and MX declare that they have no conflict of interest. The institution of MFSvdL received study funding from Sanofi Pasteur MSD and Janssen Infectious Diseases and Vaccines; he was a co-investigator in a Merck-funded investigator-initiated study; he was an investigator on a Sanofi Pasteur MSD sponsored trial; he served on a vaccine advisory board of GSK; his institution received in-kind contribution for an HPV study from Stichting Pathologie Onderzoek en Ontwikkeling (SPOO).

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