A federal committee has recommended that boys receive the human papilloma virus vaccine, already recommended for girls, to fight the sexually transmitted virus that is known to cause cervical cancer. The vaccine could also protect boys against genital warts and anal cancer.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices released its recommendation Wednesday. It is the first time there has been a public push for boys to receive the vaccine, though it has been licensed for male use for the past two years.
Dr. Baretta Casey, director of Cervical Cancer-Free Kentucky, applauded the move. "To stem the spread of the HPV virus and the many problems it causes is the best thing," she said.
The vaccine is usually given at the age of 11 or 12 and is only effective if it is given before a person becomes sexually active. As many as 80 percent of men and women are infected with HPV during the course of their lives, but most do not develop symptoms or illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
The vaccine has been met with reluctance by parents, some of whom fear it would encourage sexual activity. Last year, just 49 percent of adolescent girls nationwide had received at least the first of its three doses, and only a third had gotten all three. In Kentucky, only 25 percent of adolescent females had received the first dose, and fewer than 11 percent had received all three doses.
Casey attributed parents' hesitation to a fear that the vaccine is harmful, though research shows otherwise. "It's our hope that people understand that this is a vaccine that has been around for quite a while now," she said. "The effects of the immunization are similar to other vaccines that we currently give our children. And if I can give my child a vaccine that would prevent them from ever developing cancer, I'm for it." On average, 391 Kentucky women develop cervical cancer and 66 die.
The cost of the vaccine — about $110 for each of the three doses — is also believed to be a factor in the low vaccination numbers, though Casey said Medicaid covers it, as do major health insurance providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and Anthem. Though the numbers are low, Casey said she is seeing some boys being vaccinated in Kentucky "but it's not a widely done practice." (Read more)