Coverage of the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to expand its recommendation for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil) to boys and young men aged 11-21 was widespread, appearing on the three network newscasts, and in national newspapers. The story took up over ten percent of network news time as the committee is recommending ALL boys ages 11 and 12, as well as ALL young men 13 to 21 be vaccinated.
On NBC Nightly News, NBC’s Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman said that “One of the reasons the parents have backed away from this vaccine in the past is that because it combines three shots spaced out over several months, and sometimes that means compliance is not so good, and insurance companies have backed away from covering it, but the hope today is that the CDC has recommended it, it will be one step forward getting our kids inoculated and having insurance coverage so parents don’t have to bear the cost.” It can cost $400 to $500 for the three shots.
The CBS Evening News reported that “experts argue that kids should get” the vaccine early, “before sexual activity and before they develop these diseases like cancer and genital warts. Now for the future, another important thing is that the earlier this vaccine is given, the better the protection, the better the immune response and the better they’re going to be protected against these diseases in the future.”
On its front page, the New York Times (Subscription Publication) reports that the committee said that the vaccine would “protect against anal and throat cancers that can result from sexual activity.” The three-dose vaccine series “may be given to boys as young as 9 and to men between the ages of 22 and 26.”
The Times notes that while the HPV vaccine can be expensive, “Vaccinating boys is cost effective when vaccination rates in girls are relatively low, which they are now. Fewer than half of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 have received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine, and fewer than a third have received all three.”
The Washington Post reports that HPV “causes at least 250,000 new cases of genital warts and an estimated 7,000 cancers in males each year, leading to perhaps about 1,000 deaths.”
However, some experts “are concerned that there is insufficient evidence about how long Gardasil’s protection will last, whether serious side effects will emerge and whether the relatively modest benefits for boys are worth even the small risks associated with any vaccine. They noted that so far the vaccine has only been shown to reduce the risk of developing pre-cancerous growths, not cancer itself.”
USA Today reports, “The decision, once approved by the CDC, will add HPV shots to the routine childhood immunization schedule, says Anne Schuchat of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Although many insurance plans already cover the cost of the shots for both boys and girls, this recommendation may encourage others to pay for the vaccines, she says.”
The Los Angeles Times quotes “Dr. Joel Palefsky, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco” as saying that the recommendation “serves to equalize the burden of vaccination to not just one gender – and recognizes the responsibility of both males and females.” Palefsky also said that “a routine vaccination recommendation de-stigmatizes the vaccine and makes it likely that those people who would benefit the most will also get the vaccine.”
The AP reports, “Officials acknowledged that disappointing vaccination rates in adolescent girls … encouraged the panel’s action.”
I have mixed feelings about this recommendation.
Unlike others in the prolife community, I do NOT think this vaccine will encourage youngsters to begin sexual activity earlier. But, I am concerned about the cost effectiveness of this vaccine.
Even if your young man chooses to be sexually pure until marriage, if the young lady he marries has not been, there is the chance she can spread the virus to him. However, the cancers caused by HPV in young men, particularly the ENT and oral cancers are fairly uncommon.
Vaccinating ALL young men to prevent a few cancers is an extremely expensive proposition.
That said, I’m encouraging parents to know the vaccine is available and consider the cost, potential risks, and potential benefits with your boy’s physician.