A federal advisory panel recommended last week that adolescent boys as well as girls receive the hotly contested HPV vaccine, which in the past few years has been used to help prevent cervical cancer and genital warts.


    A federal advisory panel recommended last week that adolescent boys as well as girls receive the hotly contested HPV vaccine, which in the past few years has been used to help prevent cervical cancer and genital warts.

    The recommendation came last Tuesday after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to present its proposal to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    While the vaccine has predominantly been recommended for girls, experts are now pushing it for boys, saying the vaccine can protect against other forms of cancer as well as help prevent the spread of the human papillomavirus to girls.

    The committee recommends all boys, ages 11 and 12, be vaccinated.

    Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, agrees with the recommendation.

    “It prevents rectal cancer, it can prevnt HPV infection and it can prevent genital warts, and by preventing the infection in boys, they won’t be transferring it in girls,” she said.

    While administering the vaccine to adolescents has been considered controversial, Rattay said it is better to reach individuals before they become sexually active.

    “Once they’re exposed to the virus, it’s not helpful to get the vaccine,” she said. “You can’t prevent it at that point.”

    However, Rattay said, both men and women, who have not received all three doses and are sexually active, are still recommended to get the vaccine before age 26.

    Two brands of the vaccine are currently available — Cervarix (by GlaxoSmithKline) and Gardasil (by Merck). Both are said to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers, but Gardasil has been shown to protect against genital warts as well as anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Only Gardasil has been tested for boys.

    The vaccine has been licensed for use in boys since 2009, but it is just now being strongly recommended.

    According to Rattay, more than 60 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 who were given the vaccine in Delaware in 2010 received one or more dose, whereas 40 percent received three or more. Nationwide, only one-third of American girls in the same age group received the vaccine at all.

    Statistics have not been made available for boys yet, she said.

    Renee Grob, chair of pediatrics for Bayhealth Medical Center, said while her office usually emphasizes that individuals receive the HPV vaccine at ages around 14 or 15 years old, she agrees it is important that children as young as 11 be vaccinated.

    “One of the controversies is that by offering the vaccine, we’re promoting sex and sexual activity in adolescents,” she said. “To me, that doesn’t make any sense. If there was a vaccine against Herpes or HIV, a more commonly known disease that lasts forever, I wonder if people would feel the same way.

    “This is just another step in trying to save the lives of the people in our community. I don’t think it promotes going out and having sex. I think it protects a life. It protects against a horrible disease.”

    Grob said in the past week, 75 to 90 percent of the males she recommended the vaccine to did receive it.

    Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D-Middletown), a nursing professor at the University of Delaware, said while the state does not currently require the HPV vaccine, that could become a possibility in the future.

    "This vaccine is not yet mandated due to cost and probably parental questions and concerns," she said. "I would suspect over time, as professional organizations get involved and more research is done, it may be required."