The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV). which was approved for girls by the FDA last year, might work to prevent anal cancer, for which gay men have an elevated risk. The European Union has already approved the vaccine for use on boys ages 9-15. Considering the outrageous campaign by the American religious right to keep the vaccine from young girls, I imagine that it will a bumpy road getting the vaccine available for boys as well.
The FDA has not yet approved the vaccine for use in males in this country, but doctors here may administer it “off-label” upon request. The vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, is doing a study on its effectiveness against anal cancer, using a cohort that has a large number of gay men. (It was difficult to find gay men eligible for the study because most already have HPV.)
Gay men develop anal cancer about as often as women developed cervical cancer before the advent of the pap smear. Anal pap smears are recommended for gay men over 50. It is estimated that 95% of HIV positive gay men already have HPV, versus 65% for those HIV negative.
Should this vaccine prove effective in males, it will be very important for all of us to advocate strenuously for its speedy approval and its routine, widespread delivery to American boys, which doubtlessly the religious right will fight with 100 times the fervor with which it fought against it being available to girls.