Should the HPV Vaccine be given to both Sexes?

The HPV vaccine has been FDA approved for girls and women since 2006 and for boys and men since 2009. HPV is also one of the most common STD’s in the US with at least 50% of all sexually active men and women having it at some point in their lives. Since HPV is linked to multiple types of cancer and especially to cervical cancer, getting vaccinated has the benefit of preventing these cancers. The vaccine is low risk and has minimal side effects but people are still questioning who should get it.

A new study out of Venice uses a mathematical model to show how the spread of HPV can most effectively be stunted by only vaccinating one sex. Herd immunity is the result of widespread vaccination. Basically if enough people in a community are vaccinated against something (75%-95% of the population) then everyone else is protected too. The concept is true enough, that is pretty much how polio was eradicated. Because the vaccine was approved for women first and most countries already have programs in place to encourage girls getting the vaccine, the researchers conclude that it would be most efficient to have only girls get vaccinated. On the surface it seems pretty logical.

The problem with applying herd immunity to the HPV vaccine is that it would require a perfect world in which ALL or nearly all women were able to be vaccinated. This just isn’t really feasible at this point. The vaccine is approved for people over 26. Anyone over 26 when the vaccine was approved is not eligible to get it, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily out of the dating community for someone who was under 26 at the time of FDA approval. So a 31 year old woman is dating a 30 year old man. Since only women “need” to be vaccinated, her partner is still at risk. It’s only a year but it makes a huge difference.

On top of that problem, a girl’s only model completely ignores the reality of gay men. Some men have sex with both men and women so by not getting vaccinated these men are still at risk of getting and transferring HPV to their non-vaccinated partners. Plus, we can’t forget the conservative backlash against all things sex related.  Some parents seem to think this will cause their daughters to be promiscuous if they get the vaccine. This isn’t true, but it isn’t keeping people from believing it. This belief is keeping them from getting their daughters vaccinated.

So until we live in a more perfect world where the majority of women are able to get vaccinated at a young enough age, applying a girls only standard to the HPV vaccine will not help the other half of the population.

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