The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccine advisors are considering whether to recommend that boys get the human papillomavirus vaccine as well as girls. It's the second time CDC officials have weighed the vaccine's value for boys, and the experts just can't decide whether preventing genital warts--the approved use for males--is worth the expense.
The chief use of Gardasil, Merck's version of the HPV shot, and Cervarix, GlaxoSmithKline's product, is to prevent cervical cancer. But Gardasil protects not only against cancer-causing strains of HPV, but strains that cause genital warts. For that reason, Merck recently won approval to market the shot to boys.
There's also the suggestion of a "herd immunity" effect; if enough people of both sexes are vaccinated, even unvaccinated people would have a measure of protection. And as some panel members pointed out, HPV can cause other kinds of cancers, including anal cancer and some head and throat cancers--cancers which aren't limited to women.
Merck has been counting on expanded use of Gardasil to revive less-than-impressive sales of the shot. A new CDC recommendation would help. But complicating matters is the fact that HPV is transmitted sexually--which brings politics into the agency's decision.
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