Thursday, August 23, 2007

HPV Vaccine for Boys Too?

The HPV vaccine has been getting a lot of press as of late. For those who don't know, HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. As of late, there has been an ongoing public health/policy "debate" in the US about whether states should enact laws requiring young girls to get the HPV vaccine.

I have already blogged about this debate.

But I have something to add.

I attended a luncheon yesterday sponsored by Merck, the pharmaceutical company that created the HPV vaccine. They presented evidence showing that men in the US get HPV-related cancers at roughly similar rates as women. These cancers include anal and penile cancers.

Now, as a maker of the vaccine, Merck's data could be a bit biased- because, obviously, they want as many people as possible to buy and take the vaccine. But we do know that men and women get HPV at roughly the same rates.

But, this got me to thinking.... Why, when men and women get HPV at roughly the same rates, why was the vaccine created only for women? (Especially if men and women have the same rates of HPV-related cancers)

Here is a fun fact for you:

Gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men. And, men with HIV are also more likely to develop this cancer.

Knowing that, here are my thoughts:

Governments, religions, and policymakers are, and probably always will be, in the business of telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. When it comes to men, especially disposable queer men (possibly with HIV) we can trust them to fend for themselves.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, which means (obviously) that it is an infectious pathogen transmitted by humans through sexual contact. Which means, that unless lesbians are the only ones getting HPV (they're not), both men and women get HPV.

And, while we know it causes cancer in women, we suspect that it also causes cancer in men.

Yet what I find interesting is that the "HPV debate" has been framed in public discourse as a "women's issue." A framing that takes men out of the equation and acts as though women mysteriously wake up one morning with the pesky HPV, and acts as though men are not harmed by this virus.

Would it be a radical concept to suggest requiring that young boys receive the vaccine as well as young girls?

Unfortunately, and even though most women pick up HPV through male sex partners, I don't think policymakers would even consider mandating the vaccine for boys if HPV "only" caused cancer in women. Or if the men it caused cancer in were undesirables, ie- men who have sex with men.

Because so far, mandating the vaccine for boys isn't even on the political radar.

And, also unfortunately, perhaps the only way to suggest such a mandatory vaccine is to convince policymakers, politicians, and the public that HPV poses a real cancer threat to heterosexual men and boys.

This isn't a women's issue. It's a human issue.

[On a side note, Entertaining Marriage Defense bloggers of the week found my blog and left some, um, interesting comments. Anyone wanna take a gander at deciphering them?]