All males starting at age 11 should receive the HPV vaccine Gardasil to protect themselves against sexually transmitted forms of human papillomavirus, the cause of most cervical and anal cancers as well as most mouth and throat cancers, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee voted today.
Thirteen members of the committee voted in favor of extending the HPV vaccine recommendation to young boys, and one member abstained. The recommendation now goes to the director of the CDC and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for final approval.
The CDC already recommends routinely immunizing girls with a three-dose vaccine beginning at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active, although they can be vaccinated as young as age 9. The agency previously issued a so-called permissive recommendation giving boys and young men from ages 9 through 26 the option of receiving the vaccine.
"These new recommendations for use in males mark another important step in helping to protect more people from the HPV-related cancers and disease that Gardasil is indicated to prevent," Dr. Mark Feinberg, chief public health and science officer at Merck, the company that manufactures Gardasil, said in a public statement.
The prospect of requiring that preteen boys and girls get vaccinated against a sexually transmitted infection has drawn the sharpest outcry from some parents, who fear that vaccinating preteens might encourage promiscuous behavior. Vaccination policies also have become an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, with several GOP candidates objecting to mandates for HPV vaccination.
Many pediatricians and infectious disease specialists welcomed universal vaccination as a key tool in reducing the toll of preventable diseases.
"Vaccination is perhaps the greatest invention of medicine," said Dr. John Sinnott, director of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of South Florida. "It is a tragedy that this vaccine has become politicized."
But Dr. Lawrence Stanberry, chief pediatrician at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, said parents support universal recommendations more recommendations targeting groups at higher risk.
"Recommending universal immunization for girls and making the recommendation for boys permissive sends parents mixed messages," Stanberry said.
He offered a fairness argument for recommending vaccinations for both sexes.
"Girls acquire the infection from boys and it seems appropriate, even fair, for boys to share responsibility for maximizing community [herd] immunity," he said.
Nearly a dozen experts contacted by ABC News cited "herd protection" from HPV-associated diseases in both women and men as a main reason they supported universal immunization. And many mentioned that the advisory panels recommendation is following suit with what many experts already recommend to their own young male patients.
William Muraskin, an urban studies professor at Queens College in New York, said it's hard to determine which men and women will benefit directly from vaccination. "The HPV vaccine if given before males become sexually active will also protect those who will become homosexual or bisexual," Muraskin said. Routine vaccination of all young men protects "an important subgroup that otherwise will be at significant risk but cannot be identified until it is too late."
The panel is still expected to issue a policy statement on the importance of vaccinating men who have sex with men, because of the risk they could develop anal cancer from HPV.