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HPV vaccination should be aimed at girls, study says

December 20, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Routine HPV vaccination in boys may not be the best strategy.
Routine HPV vaccination in boys may not be the best strategy. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated…)

Vaccination against human papilloma virus was recommended for U.S. girls almost five years ago. In October, a government advisory committee also recommended routine vaccination for boys ages 11 and 12.
But vaccinating girls only makes the most sense, researchers said Tuesday.

Using mathematical models, researchers in the Netherlands found vaccinating girls is the best way to reduce heterosexual transmission because girls have the highest prevalence of the virus. Immunizing the group with the highest prevalence achieves the largest population-wide reduction of the virus.

Certain strains of HPV cause genital warts. The sexually transmitted disease can cause cervical cancer in women and anal and penile cancer in men as well as oropharyngeal cancers in both sexes.

Vaccinating males against HPV is sometimes promoted because it can protect boys from some types of cancer and because it helps create "herd" immunity in the population. But, the authors wrote: "We show that, once routine vaccination of one sex is in place, increasing the coverage in that sex is much more effective in bolstering herd immunity than switching to a policy that includes both sexes."

It's premature to vaccinate boys when a large portion of girls are yet to be immunized, the authors added.
Vaccination of girls only will even help protect men who have sex with men, they said.

"Our study shows that female-only vaccination will never achieve the maximum possible reduction in HPV prevalence among [men who have sex with men], but the realized reductions could constitute a considerable health benefit."

The paper appears online in PLoS medicine.

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