On Friday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” examined arguments from both sides over whether boys should receive the human papillomavirus vaccine, which is FDA-approved to protect against strains of the sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer in women and genital warts in both sexes (Wilson, “Morning Edition,” NPR, 8/20). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a “permissive recommendation” on the use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil for boys, meaning that doctors may or may not offer the vaccine. If they choose not to give it, they need only refer patients to a doctor or program that does (Women’s Health Policy Report, 5/7). Doug Lowy, a co-inventor of the HPV vaccine who works at the National Cancer Institute, noted that only 11% of U.S. girls receive all three recommended doses of the vaccine and fewer than half receive a single dose. Given those numbers, HPV rates in the U.S. are unlikely to decrease, according to Lowry. Increased vaccination of boys “is suggested to have a substantial enhancing impact on trying to protect those girls who are not vaccinated,” he said, adding that vaccinating boys would provide “herd immunity.”
However, Diane Solomon, who oversees prevention at NCI, said male vaccination is not cost effective. “The greatest benefit in terms of health care costs is with decreasing cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities,” but “[m]en don’t have a cervix,” Solomon said. Although the vaccine protects against anal cancer and genital warts in men, those benefits do not lower the cost of health care enough to justify male vaccination, she added (“Morning Edition,” NPR, 8/20).