A government panel now recommends that the vaccine against human papillomavirus should be routinely given to boys as well as girls. Our question is: What took so long?
Gardasil, the vaccine developed by Merck, protects against the HPV strains most likely to cause cervical cancer. Because its purpose is to reduce this scourge, it always made sense to treat it as a public health issue and vaccinate those who might spread the virus along with those who might actually get sick.
The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended in 2009 that the vaccine be made available to boys because of its ability to prevent genital warts, which can afflict males as well as females. The following year, the FDA approved Gardasil for the prevention of anal cancer, and last week, the immunization panel strengthened its stance, advising that boys as young as 9 should routinely receive the vaccination to prevent that potentially deadly illness as well.
It was the right recommendation, but the reasons for broadening the vaccine's use are much bigger. Just as contraception and family planning should be seen as societal health issues rather than solely "women's issues," so should the medical battle against a form of cancer that was diagnosed in about 12,000 American women in 2007. The most effective way to provide protection is with the widest possible use of vaccination.