Soon all adolescent boys may be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted disease that causes some forms of cancer under an extension of a scheme now available to girls, the Australian government's expert panel has recommended. The committee adds that the shots would also widen immunity to the virus, which would further reduce the risk to women and stem the spread of genital warts in both sexes.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has proposed Gardasil vaccinations, available to all girls to protect against cervical cancer, should be administered to boys to prevent throat and anus cancers triggered by the human papilloma virus (HPV). About 400 cases a year can be attributed to the virus. The Gardasil vaccinations have already slashed by about half the number of new cases of cervical cancer, of which there are now about 700 a year.
The initial cost of administering Gardasil to all girls at age 13, together with catch-ups for older age groups, was about $450 million over four years when the vaccination scheme began after intense debate over cost benefits five years ago.
The federal government yesterday said it would consider the advisory committee's recommendations, which include that Gardasil be given to boys at about 12 to 13 years of age and given as a catch-up for boys in the 14 to 15 age group. The committee states its recommendations are on the basis it would be cost-effective to vaccinate boys as well as girls.
HPV specialist Karen Canfell said the decision to extend the vaccination involved a complex assessment of cost-effectiveness, given the success of Gardasil in reducing cervical cancer, which has been more widespread than the HPV-linked cancers in men. The chief executive of the Cancer Council of Australia, Ian Olver, welcomed the recommendation as a step that would maximize the benefit of the vaccine, developed largely by Australian medical scientist Ian Frazer.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said there were steps that must be undertaken before a listing of Gardasil for boys was finalized, including pricing agreement and guarantee of supply. If the government were to approve the vaccine program, it would not be expected to start next year because of the arrangements needed, including an amendment to legislation and planning logistics with the states and territories.