Australia backs plan to give HPV vax Gardasil to boys

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For the first time, boys in Australia will receive the Gardasil vaccine, a series of shots typically given to high school-aged girls to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can lead to cervical cancer.

Under Australia's National Immunisation Program, boys ages 12 and 13 will get the three-round dose of the vaccine from U.S. drug giant Merck ($MRK). The program for boys is expected to cost $21.1 million over four years and include 870,000 vaccinations, along with an information campaign, a vaccine register and monitoring of adverse reactions, according to ABC News. This is all good news for Merck, which could greatly expand the market for Gardasil if other governments follow Australia's lead and pay for males to get the vaccine. 

"It is estimated that a quarter of new infections will be avoided by extending the vaccine to boys," said Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Australia leads the way in vaccinating boys; many health experts for years campaigned to broaden the vaccine to males in their first year of high school. HPV infections hit both males and females, and spreads during sex. In recent years researchers have linked a growing number of cancer in men to the virus. Vaccinating both men and women will impact prevalence of anal, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers, said Steve Hambleton, the president of the Australian Medical Association, as quoted by ABC.

Stateside, about 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, according to data from National Institutes of Health. About 6 million more get infected each year. In related news, ABC reported a study that found that HPV vaccinations have reduced the risk of infection even in women who don't get the vaccine, a phenomenon known as herd immunity. 

- read the ABC News story about the male vaccinations

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