Many know the jingle "I want to be one less--one less." It is the popular advertisement for the Human Papillomavirus (or HPV) vaccine Gardasil encouraging teenage girls to become one less of the many that have cervical cancer. What many don't know, however, is that "one less" can now be "two less." In 2006, Gardasil became available for girls ages six to 24. In 2009, the vaccine became available for males. The majority of people are unaware that the vaccine is effective in males as well as females.
When my doctor told me that I should get the Gardasil vaccine, I was hesitant, to say the least. Many suspect that doctors prescribe new vaccines because the pharmaceutical companies push incentives. This may be true in some cases. However, I've had the same doctor for my entire life and he is rated one of America's top doctors, so I knew he had my best interest at heart.
Gardasil, manufactured by Merck & Co., as well as the lesser-known Cervarix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKlein, are the only two HPV vaccines on the market. Gardasil is currently approved in 109 countries. The vaccine protects men and women against not only HPV but also against further development of the virus into cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus and penis. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection -- half of all sexually active adults contract HPV in their lifetime.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 20 million Americans are currently infected with a strain of HPV.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine was performed to evaluate the efficacy of Gardasil in men. Among study participants who completed all three doses of the vaccine, it was 85.6 percent effective at preventing persistent HPV infection and was almost 100 percent effective at preventing genital warts (both were compared with a placebo group). These percentages were very similar to its effectiveness in the female population.
The vaccine was thrust into the political spotlight late last year when Texas governor Rick Perry issued an executive order adding the vaccine to the states required vaccine list. This order was later struck down by the Texas legislature but sparked heavy debate on whether this vaccine one day should be required. Opponents of the vaccine say that not enough testing has been done and not enough time has elapsed to see if there are any possible long-term effects.
The problems that arise with the vaccine are lack of publicity and cost. A study done by the University of Maryland in 2010 found that only one third of girls who start the three dose vaccine finish all three doses, thus lowering the rate of effective prevention by two thirds. I conducted my own informal survey and spoke with both males and females about the vaccine. The girls I have spoken with have either received or plan on receiving the vaccine. On the other hand, not one male has received it or even knew that it was available for them. Apparently, word is not getting out there to the young the male population.
Since three doses of Gardasil -- the required amount for effective protection -- cost approximately $400, the cost alone is a hardship for many. A further problem is that some insurance companies do not cover the Gardasil vaccination for boys. This creates another roadblock for the spread of vaccination to males.
Just weeks ago the Australian government started a new $21 million program to vaccinate schoolboys. It is imperative that our government, insurance companies and health care providers do all in their power to publicize the vaccine and make it as cheap as possible.
I was administered the vaccine a year ago and have not experienced any side effects. I would encourage all of my adolescent peers to become vaccinated and spread the word about male and female vaccination. The vaccination of boys is crucial to bolster the effect of the female vaccination.