Update: 10/9/2018: On October 5, 2018, the FDA expanded its approval of the HPV vaccine to include men and women between the ages of 27 and 45. The CDC is expected to review the new age range later this month and hold a vote in 2019. If the CDC approves the new age range, insurers will be more likely to cover the cost.
Two years ago, I wrote an article chronicling the difficulties I encountered when attempting to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as a man over the age of 26. Since then, it seems that little has changed. I’ve received countless emails from men across the country who are interested in the vaccine. All of them faced obstacles trying to get it—but only a fraction succeeded.
The biggest roadblock they ran into is, of course, the FDA’s recommended upper age limit of 26, which many healthcare providers apparently interpret as a firm cutoff. I’m happy to report that this ceiling may be raised soon—more on that in a moment. Until that actually happens, however, here’s what you need to know if you want to get the HPV vaccine but are currently “too old” according to the FDA’s guidance.
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Let me first say that, regardless of your age, it’s worth considering this vaccine because it’s likely to give you at least some degree of protection from an incurable, common, and potentially deadly STD. Over the years, the HPV vaccine has been expanded to cover nine different strains of the virus—the ones that are highest risk for causing genital warts and cancers of the cervix, anus, and throat. Odds are that even if you’ve been a rather sexually active person, you probably haven’t been exposed to each and every one of these strains.
Despite the fact that over-26ers are likely to get some level of protection, many doctors just won’t administer the vaccine to them. In fact, several readers told me that, upon requesting the vaccine from their primary care physicians, they were quickly dismissed.
Of course, it’s important to note that even if your doctor is comfortable with it, you may not be able to afford the shots because most insurance companies won’t cover vaccinations administered “off label.” This is an expensive one, too—it consists of a series of three shots at a price tag of $150-250 each.
So with all of that said, how can you get the vaccine if you’re over the age of 26? Based on my own personal experiences and the stories I’ve been told by readers, there are at least three different pathways. I describe each below, along with the approximate cost.
Get it from your doctor
As I mentioned earlier, many doctors will refuse this request; at the same time, however, I know some men who have had success this way, particularly those who have doctors that specialize in sexual health. This approach will probably result in the highest out-of-pocket cost to you, though, especially if you don’t have insurance or you have a high-deductible plan. In addition to shouldering the full cost of the vaccine, you’ll also need to pay for the office visit. Plus, if this is your only reason for going to the doctor, you risk having to pay for an office visit only to be denied the vaccine.
Get it from Planned Parenthood
When I looked into getting the vaccine myself a few years back, I called several Planned Parenthood locations to see if they would administer it to me despite my age; however, they all said no. Consequently, I didn’t pursue anything further with them.
However, one reader told me he did a walk-in appointment at a local Planned Parenthood and requested the vaccine in person rather than over the phone. He says he wasn’t asked any questions about his age—only whether he could afford to pay out of pocket. He said they didn’t charge for an office visit and gave him the lowest price per dose they could ($150). They also gave him a card he could redeem for free STD testing in the future. If your local Planned Parenthood is willing to give the vaccine, this may be the cheapest option.
Get it from a pharmacy with a clinic
In the area where I live, many of the national pharmacy chains (CVS, Walgreens) have clinics in several of their locations staffed by nurse practitioners. This is how I ultimately got the vaccine. I just showed up and told them what I wanted. I didn’t have a prescription—I simply told the nurse that I’d like to get the vaccine, that I knew it wouldn’t be covered by my insurance, and that I was prepared to pay out of pocket. They gave it to me without question and I wasn’t charged for an office visit; however, they did charge a rather hefty amount per dose (about $200/each).
In terms of getting the vaccine, these three options are probably your best bets for now. However, it’s possible that the extra hassle and expense those of us over 26 have to endure might disappear in the very near future.
This summer, the FDA granted priority review (an expedited process) to an application aimed at expanding the recommended age group for this vaccine, which would take it from 26 to 45. We will know their decision soon: A target action date was set for early October.
If you’re hoping to get the vaccine, it may be worth waiting a few weeks to see what the FDA decides. If they agree to expand the age recommendation (which is what I hope they’ll do), doctors will no longer see a reason to turn down patients’ requests, and insurance companies will be more likely to cover the vaccine. But if you currently have the funds and time is of the essence, you might consider one of the other options.
Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.
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