The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the main cause of cervical cancer in women, causing around 90 percent of all cases of this deadly cancer. For men, does the absence of a cervix mean the absence of symptoms caused by HPV? The answer is no, so why are boys often overlooked for HPV vaccinations? That’s exactly what Irish researcher Gillian Prue wants to know in her quest for universal HPV vaccinations.
The HPV vaccination has been available since 2006 and protects against four strains of the virus. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the shot for all girls and boys aged 11 or 12. Unfortunately, the amount of young boys getting the vaccination seriously lags behind that of females, even though the “benefit of vaccinating boys is easily apparent,” said Prue, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University of Belfast, in a press release.
In men, HPV is linked to genital warts and even more serious conditions such as head, neck, anal, and penile cancers. It has been reported that nearly all cases of anal cancer are caused by HPV. Still, in Britain the vaccination is offered free of charge to girls, but young boys are not given the same opportunity. According to Pure, vaccinating young boys against HPV would protect them not only from infections, but also any of their potential future sexual partners. Right now, by only vaccinating females, the population of men who have sex with men is at particular risk for contracting the virus.
The CDC reports that most sexually active people will at some point in their lives contract one of the more than 40 types of the virus. Although HPV is common, the health problems caused by the virus are much less so. Most of those who carry the virus remain symptomless throughout their lives. Still, its association with cancer is undeniable, so if there is a way to prevent contracting the virus, why not take advantage?
It is true that offering the vaccination to the male population in the UK would be expensive, but Prue argues that the health of the public, rather than the cost of the decision, “must be the main consideration.” Distributing the vaccine to the population of men who have sex with men would be an effective way to get the drug to those who are most at risk, but many argue that this “would be seen to discriminate against young heterosexual men.”
The only suitable answer would be to distribute “gender neutral vaccination strategy in schools,” in the UK. Professor Stanley, Dr. O’Mahony, and Dr. Barton, authors of the editorial “What about the boys?” agree with Prue’s suggestion, adding that in regard to male HPV vaccination, “if the price is right, we can’t afford not to.”