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In a world obsessed with curing cancer, prevention is less headline-grabbing, but it’s also generally less painful and cheaper. Vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) are a formidable weapon in the arsenal against multiple kinds of cancer, yet the uptake of the vaccine in the US is low, especially when compared to other high-income countries.
According to the President’s Cancer Panel Annual Report 2012-2013, only 33.4 percent of girls in the US complete the course of three HPV vaccines, compared to 60.4 percent in the UK and 71.2 percent in Australia. The vaccination rate for boys is even lower, at less than seven percent—unsurprising given that many public health campaigns specifically target girls.
HPV vaccines and public health campaigns shouldn’t be limited to girls, says Apter, and Prof. Elmar Joura, lead author on the Gardasil-9 paper, agrees. “The female-only campaigns leave men who have sex with men unprotected,” says Joura. In societies where vaccination rates among girls are low, men who have sex with women are also at risk from HPV-related disease. Being vaccinated not only protects men individually, but also contributes to herd immunity, says Apter.
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