Boys should get routine vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV) at age 11 or 12 to protect them against genital warts, a federal advisory panel recommended Tuesday.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which helps set standards for childhood and other vaccinations, voted overwhelmingly to bring the recommendation for boys in line with that for girls. The vote was 13 in favor, with one member abstaining.
Vaccination with the Gardasil vaccine could begin as early as age 9, the panel voted. Previously, the panel had simply recommended that boys could be vaccinated between the ages of 9 and 26, but did not suggest that the immunization be done routinely.
The vaccine protects against HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV causes genital warts and, in women, can lead to cervical cancer -- a disease that strikes about 12,000 American women a year and kills about 4,000. For males, the vaccine is aimed at protecting against genital warts and less common malignancies that HPV can cause, such as penile and anal cancer, as well as cancer of the mouth and throat. The virus causes at least 250,000 new cases of genital warts and an estimated 7,500 cancers in males each year, leading to perhaps about 1,000 deaths. Vaccinating boys and men would also help prevent the spread of the virus to sexual partners.
After the Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine Gardasil in 2006 for girls as young as 9, medical authorities recommended that they receive it at age 11 or 12 to protect them before they start having intercourse. Critics worried that vaccinating children would send a subtle signal that their parents assumed they would become sexually active and that it would give youngsters a false sense of security.
Merck, which makes the vaccine, also began an ambitious marketing campaign and lobbying push to persuade states to add the vaccine to the list of those required for children to attend school. But the company abandoned the strategy in the face of an intense backlash from those who argued that the decision should be left to parents. Although many states considered such mandates, only Virginia and the District imposed one. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has been criticized for attempting to mandate the vaccine for girls in his state. Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of Perry’s rivals for the nomination, stirred controversy in September, when she questioned the safety of the vaccine.
Federal health officials and others say they are confident that the vaccine is safe. But some experts said they are concerned that there is insufficient evidence about how long Gardasil’s protection will last, whether serious side effects will emerge and whether the relatively modest benefits for boys are worth even the small risks associated with any vaccine.