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HPV vaccine: Countering sexually transmitted cancer

Men want HPV vaccine despite lack of evidence that it'll work

News flash: some cancers are sexually transmitted. Luckily, science is well on its way to saving us from having to choose between risking cancer and having hot monkey sex.

Merck’s new vaccine, Gardasil, guards us against four strains of human papilloma virus, one of the few incurable sexually transmitted infections. HPV causes or contributes to the development of about six different types of cancer, including cervical and anal cancer.

If you’ve ever had genital warts, don’t panic. It’s true that certain strains of HPV cause anal and genital warts, but those strains aren’t likely to cause cancer. So if you’ve had some embarrassing bumps on your naughty bits, there’s no need to worry — at least about cancer.

The bad news is that Gardasil has only been approved for use by women ages nine to 26. All drugs have to be tested for both safety and efficacy before approval, and Gardasil has been tested for neither in adult men.

Luckily, the plight of the anal slut has not gone unnoticed. Merck is in the middle of a three-year study looking at the vaccine in both het and queer men. Toronto and Montreal study locations are still looking for men who have sex with men to enroll in the study. Enrolling does not guarantee that you will get the vaccine, but the sooner the study is finished, the sooner your average man on the street could be able to get in on the action.

That is, for a price. Merck’s suggested price for the vaccine is a whopping $134.95 per shot, or $404.85 for the three-shot regimen. OHIP isn’t covering this vaccine yet, and even for the women who do fall within the correct age range, some health plans don’t either. Because this is one of the most expensive vaccines ever made, most doctors don’t bother stocking it. Instead, they give you a prescription to bring to your nearest pharmacy, where you have to pay both the cost of the shot and the dispensing fee, and then return the vaccine to the doctor’s office to get it injected. A quick survey of local pharmacies found that a dose goes for anywhere between $165 and $185, although you can bring the price down as low as $160 if you buy all three doses at once (a total of about $480).

In spite of the price tag, many men are already lining up for the vaccine. Some clinics in the US and UK are offering the vaccine off-label (that is, for a purpose not specified on approved label) to men, as well as to women outside of the approved age ranges. Because clinics willing to prescribe the vaccine off-label are scarce, however, they generally charge exorbitant rates.

Sherbourne Health Centre in downtown Toronto has yet to form a policy on prescribing Gardasil to men; they don’t expect to be able to do so for at least another month.