CDC urges boys also now get HPV vaccine, starting at age 11 (with video)

The Takeaway

A vaccine is given. A new CDC panel has recommended both boys and girls be given the HPV vaccine, starting at age 11. (Photo by Flickr user alvi2047, cc-by.)

Story from The Takeaway. Listen to the above audio for a complete report.

Nearly 80 percent of adults will contract HPV at some point in their life.

The sexually transmitted disease can cause various cancers in both men and women, but a vaccine has proven to be nearly 100 percent effective in preventing the cancer-causing virus. For several years, the vaccine has been available to only girls and young women.

But that's all about to change.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that boys as young as 11 and young men take the vaccine to prevent throat and anal cancer, as well as to halt the spread of HPV to women.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, is a nonvoting member of the committee. He said it's critical that boys and young men join women in getting this important anti-cancer vaccine — and they need to do it before becoming sexually active.

"We want to give the vaccine before there's any exposure, and we know for many kids exposure happens in high school," he said.

But the relationship of the vaccine to sexual activity has proven to be a challenge, provoking intense resistance from social conservatives. Republican Presidential Candidate Michelle Bachman, for example, falsely claimed that the vaccine caused a girl to become "mentally retarded."

Others say that giving 11-year-olds the vaccine is like giving them an invitation to go have sex. 

Schaffner says neither of those claims could be more wrong. He said this is actually one of the safest, most effective vaccines in use today. Also, he says this vaccine has to be given before children become sexually active, to be effective, and at age 11, children get a number of shots. So the timing is convenient.

Some pediatricians hope expanding the vaccine to boys and young men will reduce some of the controversy and make it easier for parents to accept that their children need this vaccine.

"This is an infection that goes back and forth. If you prevent it in both, you will reduce the risk for both boys and girls," Schaffner said.

The vaccine also protects against HPV-caused cancers of the head and neck.

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