The majority of American boys are not getting vaccines that protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV), even though they are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a means of preventing genital warts and a variety of cancers, according to a study conducted by the agency.
Boys aren’t getting the series of three Gardasil vaccines because their doctors aren’t recommending them, and because their parents — not understanding the benefits or safety level of the shots — aren’t asking for them. This leaves the young men open to contracting HPV, which is passed through sexual activity and can lead to anal, throat and penile cancers. The study was published online this fall in the journal Pediatrics.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls aged 11 or 12 by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In January, a consensus statement by all 69 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers called low uptake of the vaccine “a serious public health threat” and urged health care practitioners to strongly recommend the vaccine.
In the study, researchers used data from the 2013 National Immunization Survey-Teen to determine the percentage of boys aged 13 to 17 who had taken an initial HPV vaccine (34.6 percent), and also the proportion of boys who had completed the series of three (13.9 percent). An article on MedlinePlus, an educational website of the NCI, suggested that the boys most likely to get vaccinated were those eligible for federal programs that provide the vaccinations for free.
In an interview on the NCI’s blog, Cancer Currents, Noel Brewer, chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, suggested that doctors are failing to recommend the vaccine because they are reluctant to discuss sex, partly because such discussions might be time-consuming.
Further, some parents reportedly hesitate to vaccinate their children because they worry that protection from HPV will promote sexual promiscuity. Not so, according to a 2014 study of 260,000 girls published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Over four years, the study found no difference in the numbers of pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases between vaccinated and unvaccinated girls.