A study presented at this month’s conference of the European Research Organization on Genital Infection and Neoplasia provided evidence that a widely-marketed cervical cancer vaccine might also stave off genital warts in young men. Gardasil, which immunizes women against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), is also 90% effective in shielding young men from developing genital lesions caused by the four HPV strains it targets, scientists reported. The study was funded by the vaccine’s maker, Merck.
Health agencies in Australia and other countries have already approved Gardasil use for both males and females, but the US government has only cleared the vaccine for use in females. Merck is now seeking US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Gardasil’s use in preventing genital lesions among males ages 9 to 26.
Thwarting genital warts is an obvious boon—and there are other compelling arguments for extending Gardasil’s use to young men. HPV plays a role in oral, neck and other types of cancers affecting males. Furthermore, vaccinating boys might potentially curb the spread of the virus to young women, thereby reducing the burden of cervical cancer—the fifth deadliest cancer among women worldwide. And isn’t it only fair to vaccinate men and women for a disease both are responsible for spreading?
The idea may sound appealing, but concerns remain about Gardasil’s value—even for girls. And some reports have suggested that the vaccine might, in very rare circumstances, trigger serious illness among certain people. Additionally, exactly how long the immunity conferred by the vaccine lasts is unknown. Experts point out that the average follow-up time for patients in Gardasil’s clinical trials was about 15 months. There is also the argument that the vaccine, which costs about $375, may not be cost-effective for all of its target age groups.
Given the unresolved questions about Gardasil use in women, I think we should think twice about broadening its application to men at this time. What do you think?
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