A new study shows that vaccinating girls and boys against HPV is more effective

When the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced recommended first In 2006, it was approved only for girls, with the clear message that the shot helped prevent certain forms of cervical cancer and other cancers caused by the infection. Even if there was the HPV vaccination later approved for boys, The uptake was lower in this group.

Now a new study suggests that the HPV vaccine is most effective at preventing cervical cancer when given to girls and boys, underscoring the importance of vaccinating both groups. But why should boys and girls get vaccinated against HPV and what should parents take away from it? Experts break it down.

What the study says

The study was published November 8 in the journal Cell, host and microbefound that giving the HPV vaccine to girls and boys creates “herd immunity” against certain forms of HPV, which may help reduce the risk of girls developing cervical cancer.

What are the key findings?

For the study, researchers examined 33 cities in Finland that were randomly assigned to vaccinate boys and girls against HPV, vaccinate only girls, or not offer the HPV vaccine to children. The study examined more than 11,000 children born between 1992 and 1994 and examined them at age 18, as well as 5,500 people examined by researchers at age 22.

The researchers found that eight years after children were vaccinated, the prevalence of the responsible HPV types 16 and 18 increased 70% of all cervical cancers and who the vaccine targets – has dropped significantly in the 22 cities where it has been administered. The 11 cities where only girls were vaccinated also saw a decrease in HPV type 31 virus (associated with higher risk). Head and neck cancer), while the 11 cities where both girls and boys were vaccinated saw declines in both HPV types 31 and 45 (the third most commonly associated type). invasive cervical cancer).

“By vaccinating both boys and girls, you benefit from herd protection for the community in addition to the direct immune protection induced by the vaccination,” said the lead study author Ville Pimenoff, a senior research fellow at Karolinska Institutet, tells Yahoo Life. Pimenoff says his results show that it would take 20 years of vaccinating only girls to achieve the same effect of reducing cancer-causing HPV rates as it would take in just eight years of vaccinating both boys and girls could be achieved.

What experts think

Doctors welcome the results. “This study is exciting and shows that both sexes should be vaccinated to prevent cervical cancer,” Dr. Andrea Milbourne, Professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells Yahoo Life.

Milbourne says the study results support a similar study A study conducted in Australia found that genital warts decreased even in unvaccinated teenagers when boys and girls both received the HPV vaccine. Certain types of HPV can also cause genital warts, which suggests the vaccine has helped better control the virus in the communities where it has been used, explains Milbourne. “It takes many years from the initial infection to cervical cancer,” she says. “However, genital warts have an incubation period of several weeks.”

Danelle Fishera pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Life, “HPV is so contagious. It makes perfect sense that we will see better infection rates if we vaccinate both boys and girls.”

However, doctors emphasize that the HPV vaccination also benefits boys. “It is important to remember that men are also at risk for HPV-related cancers,” Susan Vadaparampil, associate center director for outreach, engagement and equity at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells Yahoo Life. Boys are particularly at risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer (also known as head and neck cancer), and so are certain cases of these cancers increasing in men in the USA, she emphasizes.

“This comes up a lot in my office,” Fisher says. “The HPV vaccine is not just about protecting girls. When I have a girl in the office, it’s really easy to talk about the risk and incidence of cervical cancer. If I have a boy there, it’s a little harder to sell considering that…” The vaccine was originally approved for girls. However, there is a possibility that HPV could also affect these boys as they get older.”

Why it matters

HPV vaccination coverage in the United States is not as high as experts would like. In 2021, almost 59% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 had received two or three doses of the vaccine as recommended. (The National Cancer Institute has set a goal of vaccinating 80% of adolescents against HPV by 2030.)

Vaccination rates are also lower for boys than for girls: data shows this Vaccination rates For boys aged 13 to 17 it is around 20 to 30% and for men aged 18 to 26 it is 10 to 15%.

However, Pimenoff emphasizes that the HPV vaccination is the “best way” to prevent genital and oral cancers caused by HPV. Fisher agrees. “This is a vaccine against cancer,” she says, adding that she urges parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about the vaccine.

“If we don’t use this compelling data to continue to promote HPV vaccination, it is a huge missed opportunity for medical and health professionals,” says Vadaparampil.

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