Gardasil for Boys? Slowly, but Surely

The HPV vaccine isn't just a girl thing anymore—it's being marketing for young men too.

Posted: 07/22/2011 08:59 AM EDT

Over the past few years, we have seen the commercials for Gardasil, the vaccine that protects young women ages 9-16 from four strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), including two that can lead to cervical cancer of the cervix. The vaccine hasn't quite been the success that it aimed out to be: Only 1 in 4 girls has actually received all three shots of Gardisil. Experts claim that this may be the case because Gardasil must be administered three different times over a course of 7 months, the shots themselves can be painful and the out of pocket cost can be off putting if insurance doesn't cover it ($400 bucks is a lot of money in these touchy economic times.)

 

And while the vaccine may not have caught on as well it could, the question still remains: Is only treating the girls counterproductive? Where is the equal opportunity for the boys?

 

Well, according to the New York Times that is slowly changing. Although Gardasil was approved for young men by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in late 2009, there is now a trend in the vaccine being marketed towards young men. But some critics are not sure if there are enough health benefits for boys to even receive the vaccine in the first place.

 

Roni Caryn Rabin from the Times wrote:

 

With this modest benefit, many parents of boys have been reluctant to subject their sons to a relatively new vaccine simply to help curb the spread of HPV.

 

“You do a public service by getting your child vaccinated,” said Jane Kim, an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health. But as a mother of two young boys herself, she said, she is not inclined to weigh the benefits to their future sex partners: “Whether or not this vaccine can benefit my boys directly is probably my biggest concern.”

 

The perception that the vaccine does little for young men has been underscored by tepid endorsements from medical organizations. Pediatricians, too, haven’t promoted the vaccine aggressively.

 

But current science is saying that cancers from HPV do not discriminate based on gender and that men who have sex with men (MSM) can greatly benefit from Gardasil, especially in terms of anal cancer:

 

Yet a growing body of evidence implicates the human papillomavirus in a wide range of equal-opportunity cancers that don’t discriminate based on gender.

 

HPV strains 16 and 18, which the vaccine protects against, have been linked to anal cancer, penile cancer and common cancers of the back of the throat and tonsils, where the virus can spread through oral sex.

 

This Gardasil debate matters to us, because HPV is the most common STI in this country and it's estimated that almost 75 percent of all men and women will have it in a lifetime. And while the vaccine hasn't been welcomed with open arms in our community for a slew of reasons, the stats are not that good for us. African-American women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than white women and the survival rates of anal cancer for African-American men are only 51 percent.

 

To learn more about HPV click here.

(Photo: Merck Frosst)

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