The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Men and women often are not aware if they are infected because there are usually no symptoms. In women, HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer.
A breakthrough in cancer vaccines came in the form of Gardasil. Gardasil is recommended for young girls, starting at age nine, as a preventive measure against most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine comes in two forms -- one that can prevent vaginal, vulvar, and cervical cancer and the other that can protect against genital warts and anal cancer in both men and women.
A recent panel advised the CDC that the vaccine recommendation be extended to boys, beginning from age nine. The idea is to protect boys from developing anal cancer, which is also caused by some forms of HPV. Surely, the goal of this recommendation is to broaden the impact of the vaccine and protect our children from sexually transmitted diseases.
Just as I immunize my children against measles, at the right time I will immunize them against HPV. But here's the catch -- does my decision to immunize them against diseases caused by HPV reflect on their future sexual lifestyles? I don't think so, but the current recommendation will undoubtedly find itself in the center of the political debate.
I couldn't agree more with Jon Healy, who writes in his opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, "Vaccinating boys will help guard them against HPV-related cancers that afflict gays, but statistically speaking that's not the main benefit of the shots. The main benefit, in terms of sheer numbers, would be stopping HPV from being spread by males to unvaccinated females. Indeed, if this recommendation were to be implemented, we might have a shot at treating boys and girls equally, if only with respect to HPV."