Will Student Health offer the HPV vaccine to men?

Photo: ABC News

Q: Now that Gardasil has been approved for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26, will the Student Health Center start offering it to the male population of OSU?

A: On Friday, the FDA approved the use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil in boys and men ages 9 to 26 for protection against genital warts.  Gardasil has been approved for use in girls and women since 2006 to prevent two strains of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) that cause about 70% of cervical cancer. It also protects against two other strains of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.

The next step is to see if the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will recommend routine vaccination of boys – they’re scheduled to vote next Wednesday.  The CDC currently recommends that girls receive Gardasil vaccinations at age 11 or 12.

This looks very promising, but it’s important to remember that there can be a significant time delay between the FDA approving a medical treatment and that treatment being readily available.  It could be months or even years before there is any possibility of insurance coverage for males receiving the HPV vaccine. 

While it’s too soon to know whether or not men at Ohio State will be able to get the HPV vaccine, this is a good opportunity to talk about whether or not they even should.  It’s not as clear cut as you might think.

While over 50% of sexually active people acquire HPV infection at some point in their lives, genital warts only affect 1% of the population and are not life threatening.  HPV has been associated with penile and anal cancers in men, but these too are extremely rare.  It has been suggested that vaccinating men against HPV would benefit women by reducing the spread of HPV to their sexual partners.  But women can get the vaccine themselves, not to mention routine Pap testing which has already greatly reduced the incidence of cervical cancer.

The vaccine costs about $400 and studies have shown that vaccinating men against HPV is not cost effective, even when considering its benefit to women.  Studies done by Merck, the company that makes Gardasil, have purportedly shown that it is cost-effective, but of course they have an enormous financial incentive in having the vaccine administered to as many people as possible. 

If and when Gardasil becomes available for men, rest assured that Student Health Services will work with the Student Health Insurance Office, the University and you to make sure you have the best options available for your health.

John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)