David Hastings' crusade to inoculate boys against a cancer-causing virus that afflicts women — but threatened him, too — has scored a victory. But it's not quite the one he has been fighting for in the past three years.
A panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week allowed a vaccine to be given to boys and young men that is already used to protect girls and young women from human papillomavirus, HPV, which causes cervical cancer.
The panel's vote followed the Food and Drug Administration's recent okay of the vaccine for boys as a protection against genital warts.
The vaccine, Gardasil, was approved only for females, ages 9 to 26, in 2006. But research has since linked HPV to many oral cancers in men.
Hastings, who owns the Habana Cafe in Gulfport with his wife, Josefa, testified before the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. He told them how HPV was found in a deadly carcinoma in his throat in 2006. It took seven weeks of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to arrest the cancer.
Ever since, he has spread the message that HPV is a threat to men. He urged the CDC panel to recommend routine vaccinations for boys, as it already does for girls.
Hastings and other proponents argued that only 17 percent of girls are completing the series of three doses needed for protection. "We rely on females getting vaccinated to protect males," he said. "If they don't, too bad."
But the panel voted only to allow the vaccinations for boys and men, ages 9 to 26, at their doctors' discretion. It did not recommend routine use of Gardasil for boys, nor did the panel require doctors to tell parents about it. Insurance companies won't be obligated to pay for the three doses, which cost about $130 each.
The decision was partly based on the fact that Merck, the vaccine's maker, had conducted a clinical trial among men only of the vaccine's effectiveness in treating genital warts, which are not life-threatening.
The committee said it would consider Gardasil's effectiveness against male cancers in February. Merck plans to present studies next year on Gardasil's potential as protection against anal cancers among gay men.
"We're only halfway through the battle," Hastings said, "but we're spreading awareness."
Information from Times wires was used in this report. John Barry can be reached at (727) 892-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.