Why Are So Few Young Adult Men Getting The HPV Vaccine?

A man wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past consumers sat outside a restaurant in London on August 3, 2020, as the Government’s “Eat out to Help out” coronavirus scheme to get consumers spending again gets underway. – Britain’s “Eat out to Help out” scheme began Monday, introduced last month by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help boost the economy claw its way from a historic decline sparked by the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

In case you didn’t know, vaccines are all the rage right now…unless you’re a man, apparently. Not only are women outpacing men in getting the coronavirus vaccine, but a recent study shows that fewer adult men are opting for the HPV vaccine as well.

According to Michigan Medicine researchers, using data from National Health Interview Surveys spanning 2010 to 2018, just 16% of men aged 18 to 21 had received even one dose of the human papillomavirus vaccine. Looking at the same age bracket in women, the rate is much higher at 42%. 

At the time the HPV vaccine was approved for women in 2006, preventing cervical cancer was the primary focus. As a result, people were more likely to be told about the series of inoculations by their pediatricians or OB-GYNs. It wasn’t until 2009 that the vaccine efforts were expanded to people with male reproductive organs. Of the nearly 200 different strains of HPV, only nine are known to cause cancers and another six are suspected of causing cancer. Most are harmless.

About 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral HPV, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the United States, HPV is thought to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers, which occur in the throat, tonsils, and back of the tongue. And while cervical cancer is more commonly associated with HPV, oropharyngeal cancer has now surpassed it as the leading cancer caused by HPV. Of those diagnosed, 80% are men.

So, why are considerably fewer men being proactive about their health and getting the vaccine? Some medical professionals believe it, in part, comes down to education.

“18-to-21-year-olds are at this age where they’re making healthcare decisions on their own for the first time,” Michelle M. Chen, MD, a clinical lecturer in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan and author of the study, said of the findings. “They’re in a period of a lot of transition, but young adult men especially, who are less likely to have a primary care doctor, are often not getting health education about things like cancer-prevention vaccines.”

There are still benefits if you receive the vaccine before age 26, although the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends getting it as young as 11 or 12 because recipients are less likely to have already been exposed to the virus. After 26, research shows that the benefits of receiving the vaccine are lower because exposure rates are so high. 

“I don’t think that a lot of people, both providers and patients, are aware that this vaccine is actually a cancer-prevention vaccine for men as well as women,” says Chen. “But HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer can impact anyone — and there’s no good screening for it, which makes vaccination even more important.”

According to the CDC, there is no HPV test for men. And, there are often few if any symptoms should a person contract it. As Chen said, it is important to see it as a preventative treatment against cancer — something that should be encouraged for all genders.

So, I ask you this, to quote a nearly extinct meme: Fellas, is it gay to be immune from HPV?

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