Experts have called for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, to be given to males.
Genital warts are HPV’s most visible symptoms, but strains also cause cervical cancer in women. To combat this the government has funded a vaccination program for girls under 26 since 2007 and research by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research (NCHECR) has found this has lead to a sixty percent decline in genital warts diagnoses among woman.
However HPV infection levels remain high among men, causing penile cancers, and anal cancers in gay men. NCHECR’s
Professor Basil Donovan told Sydney Star Observer the cancer risk for gay men who were infected was as great as that for women.
“The risk of a gay man getting anal cancer is as high as the risk of a woman getting cervical cancer before pap smears came in,” Donovan said.
“In HIV positive gay men it’s even higher. It’s not just a matter of infection, its how many infections they have. In lots of studies you find a half a dozen present in an individual at one time.
“If you can get to males before they acquire the relevant type of HPV the efficacy is close to 100 percent. The problem is that we tend to catch HPVs fairly early in life, often before gay men are willing to come out to their doctors.
“So by the time someone hits the scene and turns up for their first sexual health check it may be too late.
“In an ideal world, boys between the ages of nine and 12 would be vaccinated before they’re sexually active and when it has the best immune effect.”
Donovan said giving the vaccine to boys would help the fight against HPV in heterosexuals as well.
“If you look at the history of vaccination, monosexual vaccines generally don’t do well and we eventually end up giving them to both sexes,” he said.
“The classic precedent is the Rubella vaccine. We started vaccinating girls but what we found was the virus continued to circulate amongst boys. Eventually we decided if we really wanted to protect girls, not all of whom would get vaccinated, we needed to eliminate rubella from boys as well.
“The success with the current program relies on a very large coverage rate among girls, but there’s plenty of girls who slip through the net and we can protect them by having boys vaccinated too.”
Gardasil has been approved for males aged nine to 26 in Australia but is not on the PBS, so costs around $400 a course if sought through a GP.
Australia Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) president Don Baxter echoed the call for the vaccine to be made available for males.
“AFAO believes Gardasil should be available for vaccination for all boys as well as girls,” said Baxter.
“We expect the Vienna International AIDS Conference may provide the cost-benefit data that will allow an application to be made to the Australian Government to enable extension of the vaccination program to all boys, assisted by significant price reductions by the pharmaceutical manufacturer given the greatly increased volumes of vaccine involved.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing would not comment on whether the government would consider extending the vaccination program to boys and said no application had been made to list Gardasil for boys on the PBS.