By Madeleine Thompson
Gardasil, a vaccine that prevents the sexually-transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer in women, is gaining popularity among men. This year, the Kenyon Health Center has had four male students finish the series of three shots on campus after starting at home. Thats more than the Health Center has seen since 2009, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for men.
Theres not been much demand for it, Director of the Health Center Kim Cullers said. Its been very rare. In most circumstances theyve started [the series] at home and weve finished them here. I dont think [we] have yet given a full series to a man.
Lee Hornstein, doctor of pediatrics with Pediatric Specialists of Knox County, said the vaccination rates are lower for men because they arent yet well informed about the drug. Its because of people not really understanding what its about, Hornstein said.
In addition, Hornstein said in many cases the parents of the patient are strongly against having their son vaccinated. The moms and dads think it will promote promiscuity, Hornstein said. It was the same thing when birth control pills came out. We can only give them the medical facts, and the rest is up to the parents.
The FDA approved Gardasil for women in 2006 and for men three years later. The vaccine, which is administered over six months, immunizes against the four strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. It is considered a routine vaccine for women, generally before they turn 18.
Men receive the vaccine less often, but its protection against genital warts as well as the scientific evidence that links HPV to anal and penile cancer has led to more male recipients.
Even so, Cullers said she is hesitant to advocate or recommend such a new vaccine. Because its such a new vaccine and its only been approved for three years, they dont really have any studies about how long its effective even at this point, Cullers said. Im always cautious when anything is new to wait and see what public opinion is about it, what peoples experiences are with it. Still, Cullers plans to continue to provide Gardasil to men and women at the Health Center.
Cost can be a prohibitive factor for anyone who wants to be vaccinated, however. Each shot in the series is $142, bringing the final sum to a steep $426.
Its ridiculous. With peoples insurance coverage getting more expensive and covering less and less, I think that thats one of the main problems with this vaccine, Cullers said. I think its worth it if you can afford it, but I also totally understand that it may be out of reach for a lot of people just because of the cost.
Despite the cost, Cullers said the vaccine is worthwhile for women and a good precautionary measure for men.
Almost all young adults have HPV at some point, but the body clears the virus on its own in about 90 percent of infected individuals. What they dont want to happen is for you to get HPV and then it goes dormant and reemerges later in your life as a cancerous strain, Culler said. Thats why we do the screenings and thats why theyre promoting it so heavily in women, because you may clear it on your own and then they dont want it to turn into a cancerous type later in life.
Hornstein echoed the importance of getting the vaccine at a young age, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. They can get HPV if theyre female, homosexual, Hornstein said. Theres no reason not to [get the vaccine]. The time to do it is when theyre young before they have any sexual encounters because once they do, it may be too late.
The Center for Disease Controls website recommends Gardasil for all boys ages 11 or 12, and for males through age 21, adding that the vaccine is safe for all men through age 26, but it is most effective when given at younger ages.
Cullers said that she anticipates that administering the shot to young men will become more routine among pediatric practices as part of the required vaccines children receive. To really gain ground its going to have to really catch on with pediatric offices where the physicians in those offices promote it, Cullers said.
Cullers has not noticed any avid promotion of Gardasil in colleges and universities nationwide yet. Theres probably a lot of pediatricians that dont trust the vaccine yet, Cullers said. But if you look at the data it all supports it. All the studies theyve done on the effectiveness and immunity have all been good and positive. Its going to catch hold eventually.