A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel recommended Tuesday routine vaccination of boys ages 11 and 12 with Gardasil, which protects against infection from human papilloma virus. The panel unanimously approved the plan, with 13 votes in favor and one abstention.
The panel also advised that vaccinations with Gardasil begin in boys as young as 9 years old.
The recommendation, from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, elevates the urgency placed on immunization against HPV, one of the most common sexually-transmitted diseases and a major cause of cervical cancer. Previously, doctors were free to use the vaccine in boys, but the panel had stopped short of proposing routine vaccination.
Following the vote, the CDC said in a media release, “The HPV vaccine will afford protection against certain HPV-related conditions and cancers in males, and vaccination of males with HPV may also provide indirect protection of women by reducing transmission of HPV.”
The last part of that statement is the focus of controversy. Many people see mandatory or routine immunization against HPV as a license for young people to be sexually active. The recommendation to inoculate boys just about to enter puberty will certainly add fuel to the fire.
Supporters of the vaccination call such arguments “hollow” and “ignorant.” Eliminating HPV infection, they say, will greatly reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer across the nation. However, many parents of teenagers believe routine inoculation undercuts their message of abstinence.
Gardasil protects against four different strains of human papilloma virus, two of which cause the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine is given over three doses.
A recent study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases said if one half of a heterosexual couple has the virus, there’s a 20 percent chance the other half will contract the virus within six months.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S.
Mandatory vaccination has become a hot-button issue in the Republican primary campaign. As governor, presidential hopeful Rick Perry issued an executive order mandating vaccination of all young girls in Texas.
“If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently,” Perry said during the Tea Party debate in September, acknowledging he made a mistake in not working with the Texas Legislature on the order.
Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, also a Republican, also found herself in trouble after suggesting -- absent any medical evidence -- that the HPV vaccine may cause, in her words, "mental retardation."
The CDC advisory panel’s recommendation is not the last word. The issue now goes to the CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, and Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for final approval.