The sexual ethics of HPV vaccination for boys
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
HEC forum. - Chicago, Ill.
, p. 27-42
University of Antwerp
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. It is a leading cause of cervical cancer in women but the virus is increasingly being linked to several other cancers in men and women alike. Since the introduction of safe and effective but also expensive vaccines, many developed countries have implemented selective vaccination programs for girls. Some however argue that these programs should be expanded to include boys, since (1) HPV constitutes non-negligible health risks for boys as well and (2) protected boys will indirectly also protect girls. In this paper we approach this discussion from an ethical perspective. First, on which moral grounds can one justify not reimbursing vaccination for the male sex? We develop an ethical framework to evaluate selective vaccination programs and conclude that, in the case of HPV, efficiency needs to be balanced against non-stigmatization, non-discrimination and justice. Second, if vaccination programs were to be expanded to boys as well, do the latter then also have a moral duty to become immunized? Two arguments in favor of such a moral duty are well known in vaccination ethics: the duty not to harm others and to contribute to the public good of public health. However, we argue that these are not particularly convincing in the context of HPV. In contrast, we believe a third, more powerful but also more controversial argument is possible. In our view, the sexual mode of transmission of HPV constitutes an additional reason to believe that boys in fact may have a moral obligation to accept vaccination.