Few young people are getting the shots
When the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was created, it was to designed to protect against cervical cancer. This led many to believe it’s something strictly for preteen girls and young women.
But many physicians, including Johns Hopkins head and neck surgeon Carole Fakhry, M.D., want to see more boys and young men (ages 11 to 21) lining up to get the vaccine, too. This is why:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. In spite of this, only 14 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 received all recommended doses (three shots) of the vaccine in 2013. To be clear, the number of same-age girls receiving all of the doses is pretty dismal, too: 38 percent.
Roughly 70 percent of head and neck cancers—particularly cancers of the tonsils, tongue and face—in both men and women is caused by HPV. “The vaccine is known to have high efficacy in reducing cervical HPV and cervical cancer,” Dr. Fakhry said. “Most head and neck cancers that are HPV related are due to one type—HPV 16. This is included in the vaccine. We think the vaccine will help reduce the burden of HPV-related cancers in the United States—provided that there’s good compliance with the vaccine.”
To be effective, the vaccine needs to be given before sexual activity and exposure to HPV. That’s why it’s recommended for preteens.