The recent heated political debate about the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine has focused mostly on that vaccine’s use among girls.
The vaccine’s main purpose is to protect against strains of a sexually transmitted virus that are strongly linked to cervical cancer. Vaccinating young girls should translate to an enormous future decline in the incidence of that cancer. Vaccinating boys should keep boys from carrying the virus and infecting female sexual partners.
As a bonus, the vaccine protects boys -- and the men they will become -- from genital warts.
Gardasil also requires parents of boys to think hard about the role of vaccinations. Sure, genital warts are a worry. But the likelihood is that most boys who get vaccinated with Gardasil will do so not for their own health but for the health of the women in their future sex lives.
Despite Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann's baseless claim that the vaccine can cause “mental retardation,” the HPV vaccine appears to be safe. Its most common serious side effect is that many people faint after being injected. Gardasil is administered via a series of three very painful shots. (A major challenge is convincing your daughter to go back for more after she’s endured shot number one.)
As to whether the vaccine should be mandatory for either girls or boys, I’m inclined to think not. (For the record, one of my kids has received Gardasil, and we’re now deciding what to do about the other kid.) Though I’m a strong believer in vaccinating children against infectious diseases, particularly those that spread easily from person to person, I think HPV vaccination is a different animal, and I think every family should decide whether it’s best for their own kids.
I’m sure I’ll get an earful for that opinion.