Health Team

CDC urges boys, girls get HPV vaccine earlier

Posted January 13, 2017 6:19 p.m. EST

— Many cancer experts say low human papillomavirus vaccination rates pose a serious public health threat, and they back new recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect more children and young adults from the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer.

The HPV vaccination program used to emphasize reaching preteen girls, but the CDC now says both boys and girls should get two doses six months apart when they are 11 or 12. The CDC also encourages three doses of the vaccine for those ages 15 to 26.

Studies show the vaccine is safe and is most effective the earlier it is given.

"The vaccine becomes one of the most effective cancer prevention agents in modern times," said Steven Patierno, deputy director of the Duke University Cancer Institute.

HPV can cause genital warts and cervical and penile cancers, as well as cancers in the mouth and the throat.

Patierno said stronger participation in the vaccine program can yield dramatic results, called "herd immunity."

"So many people are vaccinated, and there are so few carriers of the virus that the amount of virus in the overall population begins to precipitously drop off," he said.

The HPV vaccination rate for girls is only 41 percent, and it's even lower for boys – 28 percent. The goal is an 80 percent rate by the end of 2020.

The new CDC guidelines also encourage pediatricians and family physicians to include HPV vaccine discussions in routine visits, along with other age-appropriate vaccine recommendations.