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Boys To Men: Unequal Treatment On HPV Vaccine

A man holds a vaccine against HPV in his outstretched palm.
Charles Rex Arbogast
A man holds a vaccine against HPV in his outstretched palm.

The vaccine that prevents 70 percent of cervical cancers got the thumbs up under the health overhaul law as one of the preventive benefits that must be provided free to girls and young women between the ages 9 and 26.

Boys and young men, however, don't get the same free coverage under the law, even though the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is also approved for the prevention of genital warts in males.

Why the difference? "Genital warts aren't life threatening,” says Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer for the American Cancer Society.

Merck, which manufactures one of the two FDA-approved HPV vaccines, is conducting research to see if the vaccine prevents genital cancers in men, says Saslow. In the meantime, though, the vaccine has already been shown to prevent cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women. "It’s a matter of cost-effectiveness," says Saslow.

The vaccine is pricey, requiring three shots over a six-month period, at about $130 each.

The human papillomavirus, which is transmitted through sexual contact, is extremely common, accounting for an estimated 500,000 cases of genital warts every year. "It’s the common cold of the genital tract," says Saslow.

There are several treatments to eliminate genital warts. And, the body can rid of the virus, although it's possible to get re-infected.

The health law requires that immunizations that are recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices be provided without charge to patients in new health plans starting this fall. ACIP is a group of 15 experts appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

While the HPV vaccine is recommended for all girls and young women between 9 and 26, the committee made a "permissive" recommendation for boys and men in the same age range, says Lance Rodewald, director of the immunization services division for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basically, that means it's OK to vaccinate males for genital warts, but it's not essential.

Copyright 2023 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit Kaiser Health News.

Michelle Andrews