Now That HPV Vaccine Is Available For Boys, Debate Turns to Health Benefits, Not Sex


The makers of Gardasil are trying to get the HPV vaccine approved for boys, which is why now people are questioning the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, rather than if it makes girls slutty.

Pharmaceutical company Merck has had a human papillomavirus vaccine for males in the works for some time and is currently seeking FDA approval for the vaccine. In women, HPV causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer, which about 10,000 women are diagnosed with each year. For men, the vaccine also prevents HPV, which can cause penile and anal cancer, and cancer of the mouth and throat. About 7,500 men are diagnosed with these cancers per year and vaccinating boys also helps prevent the spread of the virus to men’s sexual partners.

Though there have been concerns raised about the safety of the vaccine for girls, the debate has centered mostly on whether being vaccinated against the STD would make girls more likely to have sex. Now that there is a male vaccine people are focusing on whether it’s safe and cost effective to have boys vaccinated, especially when they can’t get cervical cancer, reports The Washington Post. The prospect of boys sleeping around hasn’t entered into the debate. “We are still more worried about the promiscuity of girls than the promiscuity of boys,” said Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women’s studies and medical history at Wellesley College. “There’s still that double standard.”

Since the male vaccine was proposed, people have wondered if parents would be willing to vaccinate their sons. “For girls, you can go right to protection against cervical cancer. That’s a powerful argument,” said Gregory D. Zimet, a professor of pediatrics and psychology at Indiana University. “For boys, you have to make several arguments. Part of it is an altruistic argument. I think it’s persuasive, but it’s more complex.” Debbie Stein of Maryland says she would have her 11-year-old son vaccinated. “My feeling is it’s a serious virus that causes cancer, and there’s no reason not to vaccinate him,” she said. “I think it will protect him and protect his wife in the future. I don’t want to see him when he’s 35 or 40 have a wife die of cancer.”

Merck says they won’t launch another big (and ultimately unsuccessful) push to have schools require boys be vaccinated like they did after the FDA approved Gardasil for girls in 2006. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is currently examining the results of a study presented last month on the safety of the vaccine for boys. If the panel endorses it, that will influence whether schools require the shot, and if insurance companies will cover the costs.

In June the committee will consider several cost-benefit analysis, since the vaccine costs about $500 for three shots. Though vaccinating boys will reduce the amount of virus that is transmitted back to girls, some are questioning if it’s worth it since boys are less affected by cancers associated with HPV. Professor Zimet says questions of cost shouldn’t be what’s driving public health policy. “This is a vaccine that principally benefits women’s health. I wonder if it was the reverse, and there was a vaccine for women that helped prevent prostate cancer in men, this would be as much of an issue,” he said.

A Vaccine Debate Once Focused on Sex Shifts as Boys Join the Target Market [The Washington Post]

Earlier: Drugmaker Seeks FDA Approval For Gardasil For Males
Gardasil For Guys: Will Boys Get It?

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