Supporters of vaccinating boys against HPV as a means to prevent certain forms of cancer (including anal) are apparently considering whether all young men should receive the treatment, or just the gay and bisexual ones. Given these boys could be as young as nine, that presents some issues!
MSNBC reports that next week a Food and Drug Administration panel will choose whether to recommend vaccinating boys against HPV is a wise move, just as they did for young girls after research showed HPV can lead to cervical cancer. But in men, HPV can lead to anal cancer, so it makes sense to vaccinate guys too, right? Except people must receive the vaccination before they’re exposed to the virus for it to work, and that means before they start sexual activity. Which means telling parents that, just in case their sons turn out gay, let’s stick needles in them so they don’t end up with HPV in their butts and anal cancer later on.
If [the vaccine is] approved, it creates a dilemma, say panelists charged with the new decision. Do they opt for a targeted vaccine aimed only at gay and bisexual males? Do they support a universal vaccine for men and boys, perhaps as young as age 9? Or do they continue to exempt males from vaccination altogether? “It’s a conundrum,” said Dr. James Turner, immediate past president of the American College Health Association and a liaison to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). “The conundrum is many times boys or teenagers don’t really fully understand or clarify their sexual orientation for years.”
That means a vaccine targeted to young men who know they’re gay or bisexual likely wouldn’t reach many of the males who may need it, or reach them early enough. With boys, as with girls, the HPV vaccine is most effective when it’s given before sexual activity exposes people to the virus, health experts say. “In general, targeted vaccine programs based on risk factors tend not to be nearly as effective at reaching that population as universal vaccination in that group,” said Turner. In addition, there’s the danger that the stigma of a vaccine aimed only at young gay and bisexual boys and men would hinder use. “I’m advocating it for all boys,” said Turner.
Well no shit. Because just as we’ve learned that a five-year-old boy dressing up as a girl for Halloween doesn’t make him gay, it’s basically impossible to find every little boy who’s going to end up gay later in life. Or at least having butt sex with other dudes. And vaccines are only as strong as their weakest link, so letting tens of thousands of young men begin sex lives without the vaccination opens the possibility of the continual spread of HPV to non-vaccinated men.
In the general population some 1.6 people per 100,000 develop anal cancer. In men who have sex with men, it jumps to 40 per 100,000.
The science clearly outweighs any “political” debate, because this isn’t a political one. It’s a medical issue, with a clear answer. Getting your son vaccinated against HPV doesn’t make him gay, or any more likely to be gay. But just in case god handed your family the 1-in-10 lottery, why not play safe?
Because of cost, mainly. The vaccinations are expensive. One way to cut costs? Targeted treatments. And there’s apparently some research to back up the argument: “a new study by a Harvard University researcher that showed a targeted HPV vaccination of men who have sex with men is likely to be a cost-effective way to prevent deadly disease specifically in that population.”
But let’s be honest: The real fear is with parents — or the medical community’s belief about parents — rejecting the idea their sons need to be vaccinated against HPV, because there’s no way they’re raising queers. And that’ll remain an uphill battle.