Three years ago when Merck introduced Gardasil, the anti-HPV vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer and genital warts in girls, the buzz focused on whether it might encourage girls to have sex.
Now, the vaccine maker wants to market the jab for boys and the tweets are all about vaccine safety and cost-effectiveness.
That seems fair.
Human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer, which strikes 10,000 and kills 3,700 US females per year. In males, HPV causes 7,500 cancers per year, involving primarily the penis and anus, and kills about 1,000.
Gregory Zimet, a Indiana University professor of pediatrics marveled the hypocrisy. “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.”
After the FDA green-lighted Gardasil in 2006 for girls aged 9 and up, medical groups recommended they should take the spike by age 12, or before they became sexually active.
At the time Merck tried to persuade states to add Gardasil to the list of vaccines required for children to attend school. It dumped that strategy after being scorched by critics who thought the decision should be left with parents.
Merck’s field tests of Gardasil in men show that it is safe in the short term, and that it prevents HPV infection, genital warts and precancerous growths.
Gardasil vaccination costs about $500 for the 3 shots and the related office visits.