The XX Factor

Why Boys Should Receive the HPV Vaccine

The vaccine is now recommended for boys and young men. 

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Tuesday, a CDC advisory committee recommended that boys ages 11 and 12 should be vaccinated with Gardasil, the drug that can prevent certain strains of HPV. Young men from ages 13 to 21 were also included, assuming that they have not had all three shots in the immunization series already. Men over the age of 21 (and younger than 26) can receive the vaccine, but it may not be as effective due to increased rates of exposure among sexually active people.

This recommendation is definitely a good call. As a piece in the New York Times reports, rates of throat, mouth and anal cancer attributed to HPV in men are on the rise, illnesses which, like cervical cancer in women, can be largely prevented by vaccination. Furthermore, the Times notes that insurance coverage for this kind of immunization usually follows directly from the board’s recommendations, making it much more widely accessible to patients.

Of course, the same people who have been up in arms about the vaccine since its initial indication for teenage girls in 2006 will probably freak out about this expansion as well. The vaccine has already been a hot button issue among GOP presidential candidates, and since throat and anal cancers disproportionally afflict homosexuals who, you know, take part in activities related to those orifices, I can imagine critics claiming that the government is out to turn young men gay. Of course, this ignores the fact that many straight couples take part in oral and anal sex as well, both as a means to avoid pregnancy and just for fun. Plus, inoculating boys will go one step farther in protecting their female partners, as men are often asymptomatic carriers of HPV. All that aside though, including gays in the federal health calculus is a positive—and realistic—step in itself.