Schoolboys in Australia have begun receiving a Merck & Co. vaccine against human papilloma virus in a world-first program aimed at fighting the main cause of cervical cancer, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said.
More than 280,000 boys will be eligible for free Gardasil this year, estimated to prevent a quarter of new HPV infections, Plibersek said in an e-mailed statement today. The immunization, which also protects against genital warts, will be given to boys in three doses spaced over about seven months alongside an HPV vaccination for girls that began in 2007.
Australia was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a government-subsidized program to vaccinate schoolgirls against HPV, which can be spread by sexual activity. The virus infects four out of five sexually active people at some point in their lives and is known to cause cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer.
“Because of our work in this area, Australia’s HPV vaccine coverage rates are among the best in the world, resulting in a significant drop in HPV-related infections,” Plibersek said. “We’re confident that extending the program to males will reduce HPV-related cancers and disease in the future.”
Former Prime Minister John Howard announced in 2006 that Australia would spend A$436 million ($451 million) making the vaccine free for females ages 12 to 26 following an agreement with Gardasil’s local distributor CSL Ltd. The Melbourne-based company earns royalties on Gardasil sales.
Immunologists Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou made a discovery at the University of Queensland more than 20 years ago that led to the development of Gardasil and rival Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline Plc. Frazer was named 2006 Australian of the Year, the nation’s top honor, for his work.
“We’re confident that extending the program to males will reduce HPV-related cancers and disease in the future,” Plibersek said.