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Is an HPV vaccine for boys cost-effective?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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gardasil hpv vaccine boys costAn advisory panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the use of Gardasil, a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), for use in males. A new study, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, found, however, that a public health campaign to vaccinate boys—in addition to girls, who have been receiving the vaccine in the U.S. since 2006—would not be cost-effective.

"What our results imply is for the resources expended, there may be better uses and other health interventions that would increase health gains in the population," Jane Kim of the Harvard School of Public Health, and an author of the study, told Reuters.

The vaccine helps to prevent against cervical cancer and genital warts, linked to certain strains of HPV, in females ages nine to 26. By administering it to males (recommended by the FDA panel also for ages nine to 26), proponents of the vaccine argue, it could protect boys and men from rare anal and penile cancers as well as genital warts—and slow the spread of the sexually transmitted disease.

Clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be both safe and effective in males. But, as Kim told Reuters, "Even though it might be beneficial, whether or not the benefits are worth the investment is what we sought to evaluate." Their calculations, based on trial data, health care and awareness campaign costs, as well as quality of life figures, found that the cost of launching a massive public health campaign to reach just as many boys as girls outweighed the economic benefits.

The cost-effectiveness of vaccinating boys, however, might prove to be better, Kim noted, if less than three quarters of girls get the vaccine. "If coverage in girls ends up being low," she told Reuters, "vaccinating boys became much more attractive." The authors also noted that their findings need not weight into the FDA’s decision to approve the drug or a family’s decision to have their son vaccinated.

Merck, which makes the vaccine, stands to earn an additional $300 million a year if the vaccine is extended to boys, Forbes reported last month.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jan Christian





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  1. 1. rgrowley 5:55 pm 10/9/2009

    If America creates a Government run health industry, then all will be required to get this marginal drug.

    I prefer to have my say without Government intervention.

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  2. 2. smacked 6:48 pm 10/9/2009

    I said this a couple years ago and I’ll say it now. Women, including our female children, have historically been used as medical guinea pigs. If I were the parent of a girl-child, I’d be wary of any vacination pushed on or required of my daughter that was not also recommended for my son. Male sexual and reroductive performance/success is valued over a female’s traditionally. Indeed a females performance or pleasure was not acknowledged, let alone valued until very recently. If she was not reproductively viable…well, that was a pity but God’s will. A much different attitude was and still is held for male offspring.

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  3. 3. scorp2008 8:05 pm 10/9/2009

    I got tonsil cancer that was caused by HPV. HPV tonsil cancer in males is the only cancer that is increasing in the United States. My boy is getting the vaccination whether or not it is "cost effective". If it is just as effective for males why wouldn’t we give it to them as they are just as likely, or even more likely, to be spreading this preventable plague.

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  4. 4. Michael F 8:18 pm 10/9/2009

    @smacked
    " If I were the parent of a girl-child, I’d be wary of any vacination pushed on or required of my daughter that was not also recommended for my son."

    I don’t understand your reasoning here… this vaccine was recommended for girls because HPV is MUCH more damaging to females than it is to males. Most males end up only with a few benign lesions (if any symptoms at all.) In women, HPV often leads to cervical cancer. And since most boys that I know of don’t actually have a cervix, it follows that the vaccine would be much more beneficial for girls than boys.

    I also don’t think my son should start taking the pill, either… that’s also only recommended for girls… do you have a problem with that, too?

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  5. 5. immuno_mel 8:44 pm 10/9/2009

    The thing that needs to be considered is: Where do girls get HPV from? It’s sexually transmitted, and since most people who are infected may never have symptoms, you could also be infected without knowing. Molecular studies indicate that 10-20% of men and women aged 15-49 years have been exposed to HPV. For the HPV vaccine to be truly effective in terms of the population, it must be given to both sexes. The reason why it was majorly used for girls is because we are anatomically different from boys and that makes the malignant potential of the virus is much greater in females. This is due to the particular tissue in the area of the cervix (you can read more about this on http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com/2005/04/human-papillomavirus-hpv.html). Treating cervical cancer is expensive for governments, so it’s only natural that they drew the line at vaccinating only women at first. The Gardasil vaccine created by Merck Frosst is only made up of the "outside" of the virus. In other words, it is what your immune system would see if it were infected by the real HPV virus, except it’s just an empty shell. In Quebec, the three doses for this vaccine cost 405$ altogether. Since I definitely don’t want to worry about cervical cancer, it’ll be my Christmas present to myself this year. If you have any worries about this vaccine, I suggest you speak with a medical professional instead of getting all caught up in the "vaccine hysteria" that the media like to feed you.

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  6. 6. immuno_mel 8:50 pm 10/9/2009

    The thing that needs to be considered is: Where do girls get HPV from? It’s sexually transmitted, and since most people who are infected may never have symptoms, you could also be infected without knowing. Molecular studies indicate that 10-20% of men and women aged 15-49 years have been exposed to HPV. For the HPV vaccine to be truly effective in terms of the population, it must be given to both sexes. The reason why it was majorly used for girls is because we are anatomically different from boys and that makes the malignant potential of the virus is much greater in females. This is due to the particular tissue in the area of the cervix (you can read more about this on http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com/2005/04/human-papillomavirus-hpv.html). Treating cervical cancer is expensive for governments, so it’s only natural that they drew the line at vaccinating only women at first. The Gardasil vaccine created by Merck Frosst is only made up of the "outside" of the virus. In other words, it is what your immune system would see if it were infected by the real HPV virus, except it’s just an empty shell. In Quebec, the three doses for this vaccine cost 405$ altogether. Since I definitely don’t want to worry about cervical cancer, it’ll be my Christmas present to myself this year. If you have any worries about this vaccine, I suggest you speak with a medical professional instead of getting all caught up in the "vaccine hysteria" that the media like to feed you.

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  7. 7. aleslie 1:21 am 10/10/2009

    Cost effective? Are you people related to Dr. Kevorkian? How can you measure the value of a life in money?

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  8. 8. JamesDavis 8:17 am 10/10/2009

    I think the last sentence in this article explains the whole purpose of this worthless drug. A drug with a harmful side effect, like this one, just watch the commericals, is not a medicine but a bullet designed to keep the designer’s hand as deep in your wallet as they can get it. A smart person would not take a dangerous drug, like this one is, until they actually needed it and then only if there is nothing else available. Try Melissa Extract before you start shooting up with Merck’s poisonous needles. A boy or a girl will never need a drug like this one unless they have been put into prostitution.

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  9. 9. jbairddo 10:55 am 10/10/2009

    This is why public policy should never be decided by the group that says saving a life at any price is worth it. Cervical cancer is rare on the number of cancers in this nation list. Tonsillar cancer almost unheard of. The facts, death from this vaccine, not so rare and severe reactions pretty common. It won’t help anyone already infected with HPV and yet we don’t do a test first, we give the vaccine, give false hope that they are protected and maybe the don’t think they need pap smears any longer and do get CC and die. Making vaccines like this mandatory while still selling alcohol and cigarettes is madness. We kill far more in a day in motor vehicle accidents (100) than CC (12) and probably half from drinking and driving. We have limited funds available for public health, the funds need to spent where they will benefit the greatest number for the same amount. Yes, cervical cancer is a tragedy, it took my wife’s cousin, but she didn’t follow up from an abnormal pap for 3 years, whose fault is that? this stuff is preventable, it is easy to follow up on, and this vaccine does nothing to lesson the need for doctor visits and pap smears.

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  10. 10. whatamidoinghere 11:01 pm 11/20/2009

    you DO realize that 80% of people get HPV at some point in their life, right? your comment about prostitution just shows hows ignorant you are.

    Link to this
  11. 11. vincit 5:36 am 12/14/2010

    Exploding the Myths about HPV Perhaps the most important point to note about HPV symptoms is that in many cases there are none….more… http://herpespicture.net/results/hpv

    Link to this

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