By this time, you’ve probably heard about the HPV vaccine, but did you know that the shot isn’t just for girls? HPV vaccination for boys protects against many types of cancer, too.
Is HPV Really That Serious?
To understand why boys and girls need the vaccine, it helps to know what HPV is. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is actually a grouping of more than 200 viruses. These viruses can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Certain strains of the virus also cause penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that starts in the middle or back of the throat). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 30,000 cancers each year are caused by HPV.
The virus is spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease; about 80 million people (that’s one in four) in the United States have HPV, according to CDC. Many people don’t have symptoms, so they can spread it without ever knowing they’re infected.
What Is the Vaccine?
The CDC recommends starting the three-dose vaccination series by age 11 or 12, ideally completing it before age 13. Vaccination rates for girls have been much higher than for boys, but not as high as public health officials would like to see. HPV vaccination is important for boys, as well, to prevent cancer and lower infection rates.
Gardasil® and Gardasil 9® have been approved to prevent strains of HPV that cause cancer and genital warts in men, according to the National Cancer Institute. The series is given in three shots: The second shot should be given one or two months after the first, and the third within six months of the first shot, as CDC notes.
Why Vaccinate Now?
It’s uncomfortable for many parents to think about their children having sex when they’re still young. However, the main reason for recommending the vaccine at a young age is to protect kids before they become sexually active. Given how many people in the country have the virus, one sexual encounter can lead to infection.
Although cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV, the incidence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal and anal cancer has been increasing, according to the National Cancer Institute. HPV vaccination for boys can lower the spread and prevalence of the virus, and lead to drastic reductions in related cancers.
If your son is older than 12, he can still be vaccinated. Males can get the vaccine up to age 26, but the shot is most effective when given before a person becomes sexually active.
The vaccine is now recommended as part of the standard vaccine schedule for children and is covered by Medicaid and most private insurance plans as preventive care. The vaccine has been shown to be safe, with similar side effects to other vaccines, including soreness at the injection site, fever, headache and feeling tired. These effects resolve quickly, and the chances of fainting or light-headedness can be reduced by staying seated for about 15 minutes after getting the shot.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician about the vaccine and effectiveness for boys. They can help answers your questions and alleviate concerns.
For more information on the Vaccines for Children program, click on your state on the map.Learn More