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Why Aren’t They Giving the HPV Vaccine to Boys Who Might Be Gay?


Know what the human papillomavirus does to men? Besides upping the chances for throat and oral cancer? It creates those nasty warts around, on, and inside your anus, should you ever have the misfortune of contracting HPV. Which a very good number of you will. So why aren’t little boys being vaccinated against HPV the same way girls are?

Because only boys who grow up to have sex with other (now adult) boys are really at risk for these sort of things.

The HPV vaccine that’s being administered to prepubescent girls should be enough to eventually stem, or kill entirely, the transmission of the virus, researchers believe. That’s because if you eradicate HPV among the entire female population, there will be nobody to transmit it to the men these girls will have sex with.

Great in theory! Except HPV will still thrive among men who have sex with men. Oh, and some of those men then go home to have sex with their wives and girlfriends.

So how come leading medical researchers aren’t recommending little boys get vaccinated too? Hint: It’s not because they’re worried it’ll make them more promiscuous.

Despite finding that “recent data on the use of the HPV vaccine in males suggest high efficacy against vaccine type infections and external genital lesions,” the authors of a study published in the British Medical Journal conclude that boys don’t need to be vaccinated. Sounds strange us to male homos, who won’t benefit from a female population that’s free of HPV. Notes Slate‘s William Saletan:

Why vaccinate girls but not boys? The authors cite several factors. First, HPV is more likely to harm girls. Second, the vaccine is more effective in girls. Third, the rate of viral transmission depends on the virus’s prevalence “in the opposite sex at any given time.” If girls are routinely vaccinated, there’s nothing for boys to catch or transmit.

In other words, boys don’t have to get vaccinated for the same reason they don’t have to wash dishes, do laundry, buy birth control, or think about other people in general: Girls will do it for them.

Why do HPV vaccines work better in girls than in boys? Because they were designed for and tested in girls. It’s true that HPV affects girls more than boys, but the same can be said of pregnancy. There’s still a male in the equation somewhere. Boys certainly share the pleasure. Why not share the responsibility? And what about that infant respiratory condition? Shouldn’t men do their part to prevent it?

But it’s not like the study’s authors are completely unaware of the gay factor:

The authors of the BMJ paper concede that they “only represented heterosexual partnerships and therefore did not reflect HPV transmission among men who have sex with men, who face a high risk of anal cancer and may realise a greater benefit from HPV vaccination.” But the argument for vaccinating gay men isn’t just that they might benefit. It’s that vaccinating women won’t help them. They can’t count on somebody else to take care of the problem.

What would happen to straight men if women weren’t vaccinated? The authors played out that scenario in their mathematical models. “If coverage in girls ends up being low, then vaccinating boys became much more attractive,” the lead author concedes.

We’re not scientists, but here’s what we heard: Vaccinating women won’t benefit gay men, but there’s still no reason to vaccinate men who might grow up to sleep with other dudes

We can’t tell if this is an instance of tainted (dare we say, queer-phobic?) scientific conclusions, or utter ignorance to the fact that HPV spreads very easily among the gays, and wreaks havoc on their butts and mouths. But if the medical field has a HPV vaccine that does, in fact, work with men, we want it. And no, not just so we can have more sex with fewer risks.

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  • kiltnc

    Amen! I have been wondering about this.

  • JRD

    Yeah, my doctor told me when she diagnosed me that the reason they are considering giving it to boys, but the argument falls somewhere before suffering where we make them think about anal sex.
    They also don’t vaccinate adult older than 26 because “They have likely already been infected.”
    Such a joy to learn if I had been vaccinated at 25, a year later, I wouldn’t have had several visits to have chemical burns…

  • Tom

    The CDC has not yet made a recommendation on vaccinating boys. They are meeting next week to discuss. If they add it to the schedule of recommended vaccines for males, then most people will in fact get it.

  • Oh Boy

    This infuriates me. Just really infuriates me.

    There is so much more to HPV than we know. The fact that men and especially gay men do not have access to testing and a vaccine is criminal.

    This is something we should be worrying about.

  • Alleyne

    Somehow the key line from the Salon article wasn’t quoted:

    “Including boys in the vaccination programme, however, generally exceeded conventional thresholds of good value for money.”

    In other words, it’s just not cost effective to ensure that men have the same protections even if their sexual activity isn’t with good, wholesome vaccinated girls.

    The shortsightedness of this is appalling. And it’s important to note that this policy not only endangers the health of men who don’t sleep with women, it also endangers the women who are not vaccinated (because they’re allergic to the vaccine material, have fundie or anti-vax kook parents, can’t afford the vaccine, are outside of the age window or whatever) as well. There’s never going to be a100% vaccinated rate amongst women, so the best way to really rout out HPV transmission is to get the highest vaccination rate possible between both men and women, which would protect the largest number of people, regardless of who they sleep with.

  • Fitz

    We have to fight to get parents to get fucking MMR and Polio shots now… do you really think we could tell someone “Your 5 year old looks like he might be gay, lets give him HPV”.

  • Fitz

    The absurd hysterics, such as above, are why parents are arguing for the right to risk their kid’s lives.

  • B

    Alleyne mentioned that the cost was a concern, but the Salon article he quoted was sparse on details. The WSJ article that TrM cited gave a cost of $130 per injection with a total of three injections. So, each guy you vaccinate costs $390. The problem is that, if you vaccinate all the kids in a school, the straight boys get a very modest benefit (due to the girls being vaccinated) but they out number the gay kids by a factor of 20 (assuming 5 percent are gay). So the cost of protecting a gay male by vaccinating all boys is $7800 – $390 multiplied by 20.

    What should really be pointed out is that the 20-fold increase in cost is really one of the costs of homophobia. If being gay wasn’t such a big deal in our culture, it would be easy for an adolescent to say he thought he might be gay and get vaccinated for that reason. You end up saving a lot of money by not vaccinating the ones who are 100% sure they are straight, as there are so many more of them, so you use your financial resources much more effectively.

  • Fitz

    B- that makes sense, except that there is a lot if intergenerational sex. Like a 18 y/o getting with a 40 y/o. So there is a huge gap before “all girls” are covered. Also– the vaccine helps with both HPV and genital warts.

  • B

    Fitz “B- that makes sense, except that there is a lot if intergenerational sex. Like a 18 y/o getting with a 40 y/o.”

    Keep in mind that when they make these decisions, they use
    complex numerical models that should account for that, in order to decide when to vaccinate everyone versus “at risk” individuals.

  • Truthhurts1984

    I am a male with non cancers HPV in my anus. It has not been a easy ride. However, I did talk to my primary care physicyan in June 2008 about getting the vacine. She told me I could get it but it would cost around $900 because insuracne companies dont cover the vaccine in men ‘yet’.

    So if you do want it you can get it now. You just have to pay full price. However now that the FDA has approved the vaccine in men maybe you should hold out until insurance companies approve it.

  • Fitz

    Truth– why get it now? I haven’t learned of any benefit to already-exposed people. Sorry for your issue, I know it’s a difficult situation.

  • threshold

    I’m 19 and haven’t had sex yet, and I just got the 2nd dose of Gardasil yesterday so I should be immune to the strains of HPV that Gardasil protects against shortly. My insurance doesn’t cover this (even though it has been approved for men and gay men get HPV-related cancer at a higher rate than women get HPV-related cancer.) The CDC voted yesterday to only “recommend” Gardasil in boys. It seems like the result of this is that HPV rates will be low in women, and low in heterosexual men, but vaccinating women will do nothing to protect gay men. Basically the CDC just created a “gay disease.” I doubt most other gay men are as health-aware as I am (I’m a pre-med bio major) and will have had sex before they’re old enough to make health decisions like this. If the CDC is going to be sexist in the coverage of the HPV vaccine, then I think Merck should at least be able to lower the cost of the HPV vaccine in men until it’s cost effective to vaccinate everyone.

  • Keith Kimmel

    Maybe because the vaccine is dangerous and kills people and shouldn’t be given to little girls, let alone little boys. And certainly not on a compulsory basis. Thanks to George Herbert Walker Bush, vaccine manufactures are immune from responsibility when they produce things that kill people.

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