What’s new for HPV in 2010?

imgp0009January 2, 2010

Near the end of 2009, the U.S. FDA approved the use of an HPV prevention vaccine for boys. It will be interesting to see how this will be sold in the marketplace. After taking such care to sell a vaccine as a strategy to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer with the slogan, “I want to be one less,” and assuming that even among a public with moderate to low levels of health and science literacy — most know that males do not have a cervix, what will the pitch be to convince parents to vaccinate their sons? It seems unlikely that any ad will focus on selling a vaccine to parents that implies that their sons could be the vectors of disease for girls, as that would turn attention toward sex which the advertisers so carefully avoided in focusing on cervical cancer.

Whatever the pitch, part of our conversation should focus on the vaccine’s efficacy. Clinical studies vary in estimating how many years of protection a vaccine affords, but it seems to be around three years. Some say it may be five years. In either case, there is no revaccination policy at present. As consumers, parents, patients…we need to advocate for a policy.

We need to ask ourselves if and when it is the right time to be vaccinated. We need to understand what HPV is and how it is transmitted. Since the virus is spread in skin to skin contact, a condom may not be enough protection from getting the virus if we come in contact with it during sex. We should talk about that fact with our daughters who may be trying to decide if the use of a condom is the best way to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and diseases. And we need to talk with our sons about the fact as well, and remind them that the HPV prevention vaccine does not protect from HIV.

We need to realize that for women, being vaccinated does not mean we do not need to have cervical cancer screenings. Will the advertisers include that in their future messages?

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