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Medical Panel Recommends Boys Get Controversial Vaccine

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may soon recommend that boys and girls get a vaccine protecting them from the human papilloma viruses, a group of viruses that are transmitted sexually and that can cause cervical and other cancers. Until now, the CDC had recommended only that girls get the vaccine before they become sexually active. But opposition to the vaccine has been strong in the United States. The new, broader recommendation is likely to add fuel to the controversy.

HPV, the human papilloma virus, is common. Eighty percent of women have it at some point in their lives, often without ill effects.

But HPV can cause cervical cancer. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Gardisil, a vaccine that protects against the virus. Since then, however, less than 50 percent of American girls have received the HPV vaccine, a number the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, calls "disappointing."

The controversy stems from the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. Some U.S. governors wanted all girls in their states to get the vaccine. But many parents have resisted the vaccination programs because they think they could encourage risky sexual behavior.

"Since this is for a sexually transmitted infection, it is important that parents have the right to vaccinate their children or not," said conservative activist Linda Klepacki.

A CDC advisory committee is now recommending to the federal health agency that boys, too, get the vaccine. The reason: HPV, passed on through sexual contact, can also cause head and neck, anal and penile cancers.

Most doctors would like parents to focus on preventing cancer and not view disease as a moral issue.

"These vaccines are very important, they are as important as polio and mumps, and all the other vaccines, that young kids receive," said Dr. Eric Genden is with the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

The CDC would like to see greater immunity: if boys get this vaccine, it means fewer of them will develop genital warts and various cancers. It also means fewer girls will be infected by them and run the risk of cervical cancer.

New research indicates that HPV can also cause heart disease. And with heart disease the leading cause of death globally, that's one more argument in favor of this controversial vaccine.

The CDC recommendation that boys get the HPV vaccine is pending but almost certain. The CDC typically follows the advice of its scientific advisory committees.