Men want in on HPV vaccine, too!

Some are getting impatient waiting for proof of the vaccine's efficacy in men.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 23, 2007 7:28PM (EST)

Morally righteous conservatives still face one hell of a battle over Merck's HPV vaccine. Now men -- especially gay men! -- are clamoring to get the vaccine, reports the BBC. Several private clinics in the U.K. are now offering men HPV vaccinations "off license."

Some argue that the vaccine is relatively useless for people who have become sexually active and could already have been exposed to HPV strains (hence the argument for immunizing girls as young as 9). But Merck is conducting tests on the vaccine's efficacy in 4,000 men -- 500 of whom are sexually active with other men. Studies are also under way on the vaccine's effectiveness in boys. The verdict is still out, but that isn't squelching men's interest. "We've had a strong demand for it. I had a man come in for the vaccine this morning," said Dr. Sean Cummings, who works for a U.K. health clinic. "He was 24. Then I have one this afternoon who is 67 years old." Apparently, there's a much greater demand from gay men because of their greater risk for anal cancer and genital warts.

If the studies under way prove Merck's HPV vaccine to be effective for boys and men, how will the public respond? Would there be the same moral hand-wringing over vaccinating young boys against a sexually transmitted disease as there has been with girls? Or is it only girls' purity that's worth protecting?

Of course, there's a good chance that conservatives will choose a whole 'nother tack: painting the HPV vaccine as something needed only by gay men. "It is bad enough suggesting to people that their 12-year-old daughter might need a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection," said Dr. Anne Szarewski, a clinical consultant at Cancer Research UK. "I would be interested to see the response of suggesting to parents that they should vaccinate their boys at 12 in case they become gay." Whoa, let's be careful not to spread misinformation. The truth is, if the HPV vaccine protects boys and men against HPV, it isn't a gay thing. Straight guys get genital warts and penile cancer, too! Not to mention, they can pass on HPV to their female partners.

But any bets that if the vaccine is proved effective in boys and men this will be opponents' first line of attack?

Tracy Clark-Flory

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