HPV is a group of more than 150 viruses that are related to one another. The Human Papillomavirus can be dangerous because some versions are known to lead to cancer. Each specific virus is given a number, which is called its “type.”
HPV is named for the warts that some types of this virus are known to cause.
Everyone is at-risk for exposure to the HPV group of viruses. For that reason, an HPV vaccine has been developed. About 14 million teens in the U.S. become infected with HPV each year. An estimated 80 million people are currently infected with an HPV type.
Boys should be vaccinated with two shots, about 6-12 months apart, once they reach the age of 11-12. Any men below the age of 21 may still qualify for the HPV vaccine, though 3 shots within 6 months are required for those 14 and older.
Here are the pros and cons of having boys receive the HPV vaccine.
List of the Pros of the HPV Vaccine for Boys
1. It protects against common types of HPV that lead to cancer.
HPV types 16 and 18 tend to be the most dangerous, as they both can lead to certain cancers. An infection with types 16 or 18 are considered high-risk because of their prevalence in developing anal and throat cancers in boys. About 9,300 cancer cases in the United States, in boys and men, are directly attributed to the HPV virus.
2. It can lower the incidence of genital warts.
Parents may struggle with giving their boys the HPV vaccine because their children are not yet sexually active. Yet, with more than 40 different HPV types known to affect the mouth, throat, and genitalia of boys, actual intercourse may not always be necessary for the virus to be transmitted. About 1% of the U.S. population has genital warts at any given time, even when sexually active.
3. It seems to work.
Some demographics have seen HPV prevalence rates drop by over 50% in just 4 years of vaccine availability. The effects of the vaccine offer a layer of protection that is at least 10 years in length, and perhaps longer. By reducing the prevalence of HPV in the general population, the long-term risks for certain cancers are also reduced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that more than 732,000 deaths, over two decades, have been prevented because of this vaccine.
4. It reduces the prevalence of cervical cancers.
The primary benefit of giving the HPV vaccine to boys, from a societal standpoint, is that it reduces the rates of cervical cancers. Almost all cases of cervical cancer in women, in the U.S., are related to an HPV infection. Women typically receive this infection through sexual contact with an infected male partner. By giving boys the HPV vaccine now, others benefit from its anticancer results.
5. It is affordable for families, even without health insurance.
The HPV vaccine currently costs $150 or less in most geographic areas. That means older boys face a maximum cost of $450 if they require the 3-shot series to maximize the benefits of the vaccine. Boys under the age of 14 may be able to have full protection from the dangerous types of HPV for as little as $260. For those who have health insurance cover, many policies will cover the entire cost of the vaccines if they are administered, especially if children are given the shots before reaching the age of 18.
6. It does not contain the live virus.
HPV vaccines do not contribute to the spread of the virus within the general population. They do not contain the live virus, which means no one can be infected because of receiving the vaccination. The vaccines do not treat an existing infection, however, which is why the vaccine is best administered before someone becomes sexually active. Almost everyone who is sexually active has been infected with at least one type of the HPV virus.
List of the Cons of the HPV Vaccine for Boys
1. It offers some degree of risk.
Every vaccine offers a certain level of risk to the recipient. The most serious risk of the HPV vaccine is an anaphylaxis reaction due to an allergy to an ingredient contained within the vaccine. Since the HPV vaccine has been distributed, there have been almost 40 cases of anaphylaxis reactions recorded. Although the actual incident rate of this severe allergic reaction is just 0.003%, it is still a risk factor that parents must evaluate with this vaccine.
2. It does not provide generalized protection.
All 3 current HPV vaccines offer protection against the dangerous types 16 and 18 of the HPV virus. Only Gardasil protects against types 6 and 11, which are believed to cause up to 90% of the cases of genital warts. A recent addition to the HPV vaccine choices, Gardasil 9, covers another 5 types that have some cancer risks associated with them as well.
3. It can cause some serious side effects.
In 2016, a total of 35,000 adverse events had been reported from individuals who had received the HPV vaccine. About 7% of the reported adverse effects to the vaccine were classified as being serious. A total of 117 reports of fatalities due to the vaccine have also been reported. Although the benefits of the vaccine usually outweigh the benefits on a societal level, there are certain risks that parents must decide upon for their children when receiving this vaccine. For children with a history of health issues, the risks may be too great for some families.
4. It may cause support for early-onset sexual activity.
In 2014, Spain considered universal HPV vaccination for its citizens. Some children can be vaccinated as early as 9 with the HPV vaccine. Because HPV works to counter infections from sexual activity, there were concerns that some children might feel safer about having sex or choosing to have unprotected sex as they got older.
5. It can create uncomfortable symptoms.
Common side effects that are uncomfortable, but not classified as being serious, include toothaches, headaches, swollen glands, stomach pain, insomnia, fever, and fatigue. Some people have reported having a runny nose, a sore throat, or a persistent cough after being given the vaccine. Inflammation at the injection site is also common, as is redness, bruising, and itchiness.
These HPV vaccine pros and cons for boys are important to consider for the health of a child and the health of future sexual partners. High-risk groups for qualifying adults include men who have sex with other men, identify as being bisexual or gay, or identify as being transgender. By receiving this vaccination, the future risks of certain cancers and genital warts can be reduced. In return, there are certain personal risks which must be considered as well.