Can you say "double standard"?
There's an article in the Washington Post today about the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which Merck is now trying to get approval to market to men. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that strikes about 10,000 women each year and kills about 3,700. For males, the vaccine is aimed at protecting against genital warts and penile and anal cancer (also cancer of the mouth and throat). The virus causes at least 250,000 new cases of genital warts and an estimated 7,500 cancers in males each year, causing around 1,000 deaths. And, very importantly, vaccinating boys and men would also help prevent the spread of the virus to their sexual partners. So mostly, this is a good thing.
However, there's some controversy about the marketing of Gardasil, which is showing the usual double standard in worrying about promiscuity for women, but not for men. When the vaccine was marketed to women three years ago, the main question was: is the vaccine going to encourage young girls to have sex? But now, because it's focused on boys, we're asking, "Is it worth the money, and is it safe and effective enough?"
"We are still more worried about the promiscuity of girls than the promiscuity of boys," said Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies and medical history at Wellesley College. Double standard? Damn straight!
The WaPo says, "Federal health officials, Merck and others say they are confident that the vaccine is safe. But some experts said they are concerned that there is insufficient evidence about how long Gardasil's protection will last, whether serious side effects will emerge and whether the relatively modest benefits for boys are worth even the small risks associated with any vaccine." So it may be a while before this is approved for men. But until then, we need to think about whether there's something wrong in the way that we're thinking about gender and Gardasil It's a vaccine, for God's sake! We should be worried about safety and affordability for both men and women.