Awareness grows among males of shot's efficacy in protecting against infections
When Tian Xiaorun, a male teacher in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, flew to the Hong Kong special administrative region to be vaccinated against HPV in January, his friends and family members questioned his decision.
"Even the doctor in Hong Kong was surprised to see me — a male from the mainland — come to get vaccinated against HPV," said the 30-year-old.
HPV vaccines are mainly used to prevent cervical cancer, which kills 342,000 women a year worldwide. But men also benefit from getting vaccinated to protect against genital and colon cancers and those in the head and neck, among others. Some countries and regions have approved HPV vaccines for use among both genders.
"I first learned that men could receive vaccines against HPV when I was an exchange student in the United States, but at that time, I simply shrugged off the risk of the virus," he said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic prompted me to increase self-care, and after doing some research, I believe that getting vaccinated is worthwhile because it would not only protect myself against genital warts, but also my female partners."
A small but growing number of men in China have considered or opted to obtain HPV vaccines outside the mainland — where the dose is not currently approved for use among men.
While hailing the growing awareness and acceptance of the cancer-preventing shot, experts said that in China, the priority group for HPV vaccination remains females aged 9 to 45, especially young girls and adolescents.
Wu Yinglan, director of the women's health department at the Hunan Provincial Maternal and Child Health Hospital, said that men could not only prevent HPV-related conditions by getting the vaccine, but could also protect their female partners by lowering women's risk of exposure to HPV viruses via sexual contact.
"Cervical cancer is common and deadly for females. As the domestic manufacturing capacity of HPV vaccines is not large enough to protect both men and women, we should prioritize female vaccination," she said during an interview with Xiaoxiang Morning Herald, a newspaper based in Hunan province.
"In case of sufficient supplies in the future, mass vaccination for both men and women could become a trend," she added.
Qiao Youlin, a professor at the School of Population Medicine and Public Health at Peking Union Medical College, said during a previous interview that HPV vaccines should be prioritized for girls aged under 15.
"Human papillomavirus is mainly transmitted through sexual contact, and males should get vaccinated but they are only the third priority," he said.
Cho Kyu-hyun, a South Korean singer and television host, said during a recent television program that he had obtained his first HPV vaccine. He said he hoped his decision could help break stereotypes about the vaccine as a female-exclusive product and spread awareness about the significance of preventing HPV infections.
A hashtag related to his vaccination became one of the most-discussed topics on China's microblogging platform Sina Weibo on Aug 9.
Some netizens said they were surprised to learn that men could get HPV vaccines and applauded his move, while some said even their female friends have not been vaccinated yet due to low awareness and limited supplies.
Chai Yan, director of consulting firm IQVIA Biotech, said that HPV vaccination coverage among women aged 4 to 45 is uneven across China. More efforts are needed to boost inoculation rates in small cities and towns, as well as for younger girls aged 9 to 15.
He added that several domestic vaccines are projected to gain market approval by around 2026, which will greatly boost the country's manufacturing capacity.