Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s recently published a study showing that the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) has been effective in decreasing HPV infection, not only in immunized teenage girls but also in those who are not immunized.
This is a phenomenon known as herd protection – a decrease in infection rates among unimmunized individuals that occurs when a critical mass of people in a community is immunized against a contagious disease.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is the main cause of cervical cancer. Although the largest number of HPV-associated cancers occurs in women, men, too, can get HPV and develop genital cancers caused by the virus. In fact, thousands of HPV infections occur each year in men.
In December 2011, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the routine use of HPV vaccine in boys beginning at the age of 11 or 12.
Physicians at Cincinnati Children’s agree.
“Vaccinating young men before the age of sexual activity would provide direct benefits in preventing anal and penile cancers, and would likely reduce the transmission of infection, disease and cancers in women, in part through herd immunity,” says Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, a physician in the division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the HPV study referenced at the beginning of the post.
Since 2006, HPV vaccination among teen girls has increased. But the most current statistics tell us that coverage with at least one dose among teen boys is less than 2 percent.
The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over a six-month period. To work best, it is important for pre-teens to get all three doses before sexual activity begins.
Parents of pre-teen boys should talk to their pediatricians about the HPV vaccine. If your child is 11 or 12, a good time to do this is now, when making sure that he is up to date on his vaccines before school starts in the fall.