Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause a number of anogenital cancers (i.e., cervical, penile, anal, vaginal, vulvar) and genital warts. A decade ago, the HPV vaccine was approved, and has been shown to be a public health achievement that can reduce the morbidity and mortality for HPV-associated diseases. Yet, the mistaken over-identification of HPV as a female-specific disease has resulted in the feminization of HPV and HPV vaccines. In this critical review, we trace the evolution of the intersection of science, politics, economics and gender norms during the original HPV vaccine approval, marketing era, and implementation. Given the focus on cervical cancer screening, women were identified as bearing the burden of HPV infection and its related illnesses, and the group responsible for prevention. We also describe the consequences of the feminization of HPV, which has resulted primarily in reduced protection from HPV-related illnesses for males. We propose a multilevel approach to normalizing HPV vaccines as an important aspect of overall health for both genders. This process must engage multiple stakeholders, including providers, parents, patients, professional organizations, public health agencies, policymakers, researchers, and community-based organizations.
- Critical review
- HPV vaccination