The CDC’s pending decision over whether to recommend vaccinating boys against human papillomavirus will be interesting in terms of what it says about sexism in medicine: The issue is complicated because the vaccine is already recommended for girls. As more girls become immune to HPV, herd immunity kicks in and the additional benefit of vaccinating boys becomes more marginal. One possible outcome is for the CDC to say, in effect, “Thanks for taking all those shots, girls! Now we don’t need to do the same to boys.” That might be medically “correct,” but it certainly wouldn’t be fair, especially as girls could have received the identical benefit had all boys been vaccinated first.
Merck (MRK)’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s Cervarix were approved for girls first because eradicating two strains of HPV also prevents 70 percent of cervical cancers caused by those strains. Cervical cancer can be fatal. Even though there were good reasons to vaccinate girls first, it’s still the case that the girls were the guinea pigs. For the CDC to not require the same treatment for boys seems rather cynical. (The FDA has already approved Gardasil for boys, but the FDA’s mere approval is different than the CDC’s recommendation that it be added to the list of vaccines that children should receive.)
It would also say something about the federal government’s attitude toward gay and bisexual men. Vaccinating boys would deliver the most benefit to the gay community. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation:
More than 60% of men without HIV and 90% of men with HIV who have sex with men are infected with HPV in their anal canals.