Once again, the arguments for and against immunizations have taken center stage in a national debate. Lately, the discussion has been focused on the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry took heat from fellow GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for ordering public schools in his state to administer the HPV vaccine to pre-teen girls.
Since 2006, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has called for the HPV vaccine to be required for the routine vaccination of 11- to 12-year-old girls. And on Oct. 25, 2011, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) unanimously recommended that 11- to 12-year-old boys be routinely vaccinated for HPV as well. The committee had previously recommended only that the vaccine be made available on request to males between the ages of 9 and 26.
On the same day, the ACIP made recommendations, stating that boys and young men should be vaccinated against HPV to protect against anal and throat cancer that can result from sexual activity.
The ACIP has worked on this project for several years and it comes after a lot of thought and deliberation.
“I think it’s a good decision,” said Donald Murphey, M.D., the medical director of Infectious Disease at Cook Children’s Medical Center. “We know that there’s a big benefit for girls to get HPV vaccines to prevent them from getting cervical cancer 10 to 20 years later. There is not as big a benefit for boys but there is still benefit. The decision to recommend boys receive the vaccine was not as automatic of a decision as the strong suggestion that girl receive it. More study and analysis took place regarding the boys, but after thinking and talking about it, studying it and finding this vaccine is safe, it was decided that the vaccine is very effective.”
Boys do get the HPV infection and they can get sick with cancer or disease related to HPV. They can get genital warts, cancer in the genital area and also both boys and girls can get head and neck cancers related to HPV.
Throat cancer is a possibility for boys. “We also know that when kids get to be teenagers or go off to school and start being sexually active that they tend to get infected with HPV very quickly,” Dr. Murphey said. “Even though they may be careful, if you just look at studies on the HPV infection, in the first couple of years of sexual of activity, these cancers are very, very common.”
Dr. Murphey said the concern is that boys can spread it to girls and then females face potentially fatal consequences. “So I think this a good move, because a lot of girls are already being vaccinated for HPV,” he said.
HPV infection in girls can lead to genital and cervical cancer later in life. Dr. Murphey said, “That’s the biggest target with this vaccine. The goal is to prevent that from happening. At present, only about 40 percent of girls in the U.S. have gotten the vaccine, so we still have some work to do to protect girls and immunizing boys would be a way to help do that.”
A lot of kids do not know they have HPV and they may not know until years later. And this vaccine, if given before those kids are sexually active, would prevent that from happening.