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Why Is the Government Now Recommending the HPV Vaccine for Boys?

"Why are you vaccinating my son against anal cancer? He's not gay!"

As if the HPV vaccine wasn't controversial enough. Now, a government panel is recommending that boys age 11-12 also get the shot. Why?

  • The panel believes it will help reduce the risk of women getting the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus.
  • Studies show that it prevents 90 percent of genital warts in men and it reduces risk of anal, penile and throat cancers.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made the recommendation Tuesday for boys to also receive the three-dose vaccine, which is still recommended to girls to prevent the STD that could increase risk for cervical cancer. Federal health officials usually adopt what the panel says and asks doctors and patients to follow the recommendations.

Time reports that the vaccine was approved for this use in boys by the Center for Disease Control back in 2009, but more evidence was needed before a formal recommendation was made. Research supporting this recommendation, according to Time, includes:

In February, for example, researchers reported that the HPV vaccine prevented 90 percent of genital warts in men who were not infected with the virus before immunization. The vaccine was also found to be 75 percent effective in protecting against anal cancer in a study of primarily gay men. It also protects against certain penile and throat cancers, and recent data suggest that HPV is increasingly responsible for mouth and throat cancers, which have been on the rise — probably because of increasing rates of oral sex.

Some parents may ask, "'Why are you vaccinating my son against anal cancer? He's not gay! He's not ever going to be gay!' I can see that will come up," Ranit Mishori, a family practice doctor in Washington, D.C., Mishori, who supports the committee's recommendation, said to the Associated Press.

Aside from protecting against genital warts in boys, doctors also say that boys could also help prevent the spread of the sexually transmitted virus to girls.

The HPV vaccine controversy stems from the fact that boys and girls would not have to worry about the adverse side effects of HPV if they abstained from sexual intercourse.

According to the Associated Press, since the vaccine was introduced for girls five years ago, only about a third of adolescent girls have been fully vaccinated against the virus. It's a percentage that Dr. Anne Schuchat, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Administrator says is "pretty terrible."

NPR reports Merck, the pharmaceutical manufacturer of Gardasil, as saying the shot, which runs $100 per dose, will make economic sense if it helps reduce transmission of the virus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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