CDC confirms effectiveness of HPV vaccine in men

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed its provisional recommendation from 2009 that the HPV vaccine (Gardasil) against human papillomavirus infection is both safe and effective in males in preventing genital warts.

The HPV vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for use in females from age nine to 26 to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. Soon after, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which helps to set the US’s vaccination policies, recommended that Gardasil become part of routine vaccination for all girls 11 to 12 years old.

Last year, the ACIP added males to the population who can benefit from Gardasil vaccination, but stopped short of advising routine immunization. (The advice was specific to Gardasil and did not apply to the second HPV vaccine approved by the FDA, in 2009, called Cervarix, since that vaccine targets only the cancer-causing strains of HPV and not the strains primarily responsible for genital warts.) The reason, say health officials, is that the burden of HPV — which includes genital warts as well as the risk of cervical cancer — is heaviest on females, and with widespread vaccine coverage in females, as a public health matter, it’s not cost effective to push for equal coverage in boys.

The CDC today makes the provisional recommendation official, confirming that while effective and safe in males, the HPV vaccine should not become part of the regular vaccination schedule for them. Instead, the recommendation remains vague on exactly how the shot should be used in men, and which males could benefit, stating only that the vaccine “would be most effective when given exposure to HPV through sexual contact.” More detailed advice on the use of HPV in specific, higher risk populations may be forthcoming, say CDC scientists, since the FDA is currently reviewing additional data on the vaccine’s ability to prevent precancerous growths among men who have sex with men.