Vaccination against HPV — a sexually transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, oral cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and other cancers, as well as genital warts — was first recommended for women and girls under age 26.
In 2009, the vaccine was
“HPV vaccination is important for boys and girls to prevent cancers that can happen later in life,” Judy Klein, president of the adolescent health group Unity Consortium and a member of the National HPV Roundtable, told Healthline. “HPV infections can cause several types of cancers later in life for men, including cancers of the throat, penis, and anus. As a matter of fact, these HPV cancers are now the most common type, and affect more men than women.”
“Sex with an HPV infected partner is how the virus is transmitted,” added Loafman, “so vaccinating younger males provides the sort of herd immunity we look for to interrupt the spread of infectious disease.”
Studies have also shown that rates of certain cancers known to be related to HPV infections have declined as vaccination rates have risen.
Loafman said that the HPV vaccine’s proven effectiveness in preventing certain types of cancer has helped overcome growing vaccine hesitancy in the United States.
“The appropriate focus on HPV vaccine for cancer prevention is relevant and effective. We think this has really helped HPV vaccine transition to one that is more widely accepted as part of the standard vaccines we administer, and as this happens it is far more readily included among the recommendations we make, and patients and parents accept,” he told Healthline. “Media campaigns focusing on cancer prevention have been very helpful in this regard.”
Populations with below-average rates of HPV vaccination include people of Black, Hispanic, and Native American ethnicity, people lacking health insurance, and those who had fewer healthcare contacts, particularly well-child visits at age 11 or 12.
Loafman, who works as a clinician serving a predominantly Black community in Chicago, said that improving HPV vaccination rates among underserved populations will require overcoming a lack of trust in organized medicine, barriers to accessing care, and increasing the number of Black healthcare providers.
“Media efforts in which trusted representatives from the Black community share health advice are also effective and can have an almost immediate impact, as we have seen with COVID vaccine acceptance,” said Loafman.
“The goal is to maximize opportunities for vaccinating,” said Klein. “Most vaccinations take place during well-child visits. The problem is that annual check-ups decrease as children get older, and annual check-ups decreased during the pandemic.”
“There are proven strategies for increasing well-child and vaccination visits, including healthcare provider offices reaching out and reminding parents that it’s time for the visit [and reminders to providers] to vaccinate during every adolescent encounter, such as sports physicals and acute care visits,” she said.