The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of the vaccine to prevent HPV in males, but some road blocks are keeping many boys and men from getting it. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
As a 24-year-old openly gay man, Eric Zuarino says he knows he's at increased risk for contracting Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. So he's chosen to get vaccinated.
"Men still get HPV. I have some friends who have and have had to have surgery because of it and I never want to experience that," says Zuarino.
Gardasil, the vaccine which has been widely marketed and available for use in females 9 to 26 for the past few years, was just approved for males in the same age range.
Not only can HPV lead to cervical cancer in women. But it can also cause penile cancer in men, and genital warts, and anal, oral, head and neck cancers in both sexes -- lately at increasing numbers.
Some doctors and their patients say there are double standards when it comes to accessibility of the vaccine. To begin with, it's not clear if or when private insurance companies will cover the vaccine for males. For Zuarino, it's meant forking over $200 for a three-dose regimen.
The federal government will cover boys and men up to 18 who can't afford the shots.
"I'd like to hope that they're going to realize that the cost of three shots far outweighs having to take care of a person who develops warts or genital lesions or possibly cancer down the line," says Dr. Stephen Goldstone of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Another big concern is while doctors are required to tell females about the vaccine, they are not required to tell their male patients about it.
"The CDC's rationale was that HPV and cancer was a bigger problem for women than it is for men. And the problem with that logic is that vaccine rates for women are still very low," says Goldstone. "Vaccinating men would not only help protect women but it would protect the men themselves."
According to the CDC, gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to develop serious complications from HPV. Some doctors specializing in LGBT health are looking at issues with vaccine accessibility as yet another disparity for a group that's been historically excluded.
"We've been traditionally invisible to all sorts of regulators everywhere. We know for certain that five to 10 percent of boys growing up are going to be men who have sex with men when they get older," says Dr. Gal Mayer of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
While the push for more access is likely to continue, Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, is also providing assistance to 19- to 26-year-old males without insurance, starting on November 1. For more information, visit www.merck.com.