Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the HPV vaccine should be given routinely to boys ages 11-12 years. Kathryn S. Brigham, MD, of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, answers questions about the recommendation.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. There are more than 100 different strains, or types, of this virus. Some strains cause warts on hands and feet, some strains cause genital warts, and other strains can cause cancer, including cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, mouth, and throat.
What do the HPV vaccines protect against?
There are currently two HPV vaccines available in the United States: Gardasil® and Cervarix®. Gardasil protects against the HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. HPV strains 6 and 11 cause about 90 percent of all genital warts, while HPV strains 16 and 18 cause about 70 percent of all cervical and anal cancers. Cervarix only protects against the HPV strains 16 and 18. Both vaccine series involve three shots spread out over six months. HPV 16 and 18 are associated with over 7,000 cases of cancer in males each year.
What are the new vaccination guidelines for boys and young men?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recently recommended that Gardasil should be given routinely to boys ages 11-12 years. In addition, it recommended that Gardasil should be given to males 13-21 years who have not yet received this vaccine. This vaccine will prevent genital warts and anal cancer in males, as well as prevent transmission of cervical cancer-causing strains to female partners. Cervarix is not recommended for males.
Isn’t 11 years old too early to vaccinate against a sexually transmitted disease?
The reason this vaccine is recommended at the age of 11 is that it is vitally important to give this vaccine before the onset of sexual activity in order to prevent young adults from acquiring this potentially cancer-causing virus. The vaccines do not treat HPV-related diseases and cancers after HPV has been acquired.
Why should my son get vaccinated?
This is one of the few vaccines we have that can prevent cancer. Not only will your son have a lower risk of anal cancer, any future female partners will have a lower risk of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer.
What are the common vaccination side effects?
The most common side effects include pain where the shot was given, fever, dizziness and nausea. In addition, some adolescents have fainted after receiving the vaccination, so the adolescent should consider sitting down for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine. It does not cause mental retardation or any serious neurological conditions.
Are the vaccines for boys covered by insurance?
As of October, 2011, some private insurance companies still do not cover this vaccine series, so if you are worried, you should contact your insurance company. Due to this new recommendation by ACIP, it is very likely that in the future there will be universal insurance coverage.
Who should I talk to about getting my son vaccinated?
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to discuss this with your son’s primary care provider.