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Last week the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to change the status of the male human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination from permissive to routine. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S.; it is also the main cause of cervical cancer, and research suggests it is the leading cause of other forms of cancer. The HPV vaccine, which is widely marketed for female adolescents, has been approved for males since 2009. However, HPV vaccination rates are low among female adolescents in theU.S. and even lower among males. It is estimated that only 1% of males in theU.S. have been vaccinated. The advisory committee is recommending that the vaccine become standard for all boys ages 11 and 12 and is advising the vaccination of young men ages 13 to 21 who have not yet received the vaccine.
Globally, the highest rates of STIs occur among youth (ages 15-24) and approximately 25% of young women under 24 years old have been infected with HPV. HPV is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer, 95% of anal cancer cases, 50% of all vulvar cancer cases, and 60% of all head and neck cancer cases. The previous focus of HPV vaccination campaigns on females sent the message that HPV is a single-sex issue, however these cancers affect both males and females. Expansion of the vaccination recommendations to include boys will help to change the public perception of the infection as one that mainly affects females to one that has negative effects on everyone. The change in the recommendation will likely lead to greater uptake among young men, not only protecting them from HPV-related cancers, but also helping them to prevent the spread of HPV to their partners.