Since 2006, the Gardasil vaccine has been used by 9 to 26 year olds to stop the spread of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause genital warts and various types of cancer.  Last Friday (October 5), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that the current version of the drug can be used up to the age of 45. This increase could be be particularly beneficial for Black and Latinx people, who develop HPV-related cancer at higher rates than other races.

About half of teens in the United States have taken two or three doses of Gardasil, reports The Associated Press. Merck, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it, concluded after a study that the vaccine also works for older adults. Those under 16 must take two doses for it to be effective, while anyone older should take three, spaced a few months apart. It is about 90 percent effective for women three years after the third dose.

Other than an increase in the permitted age, the newest version of Gardasil 9 protects against nine strains of HPV, while the original only guarded against four.  

“Today’s approval represents an important opportunity to help prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers in a broader age range,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

HPV is the most commonly transmitted STI in the United States. It is transmitted through oral, vaginal and anal sex. About 14 million people are newly infected with HPV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, “each year about 33,700 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by an HPV infection,” reports The AP.

The CDC found that a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx people with the STI develop certain types of cancers. More Black women get HPV-associated vaginal cancer than women of other races. Black and Latinx men have higher rates of HPV-associated penile cancer than White, non-Latinx men. Incidences of anal and rectal cancers that are HPV-related are higher in Black men than their White counterparts.

Gardasil 9 is only effective against HPV strains that users have not previously been exposed to it (there are about 40 strains in all). However, since the drug protects against nine common strains, there are still benefits for a broad range of people.

Reports The New York Times:

[Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University] said a panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already been discussing the data on using the vaccine in older people, and is expected to make a recommendation about it. The recommendation could be universal, meaning that everyone in that age range should receive it, or it could be “permissive,” meaning that the decision is up to doctors and patients.

Once that group, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommends a vaccine, insurers generally cover it.

Without insurance, Merck puts the list price for Gardasil 9 at $205 per dose.