The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has decided that some people through age 45 could benefit from getting an HPV vaccine. The group also voted unanimously to recommend HPV vaccines for both boys and girls and men and women through age 26. The recommendation could expand the pool of people whose insurance providers may cover the cost of the vaccine.
The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, which is typically transmitted through oral, anal or vaginal sex. In most cases, the body’s immune system suppresses the virus, so some people may never know they have it, but most sexually active people will contract HPV at some point and can pass it to partners during an active infection. The virus has been linked to many types of cancer, including cervical, anal, vaginal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, high-risk HPV infections cause about 3 percent of all cancers in women and 2 percent in men in the United States. Worldwide, high-risk HPV-related infections cause about 5 percent of all cancers. The CDC says that many of these instances of cancer could be prevented by vaccination.
A commonly used vaccine, Gardasil 9, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to protect against nine HPV strains. Seven of those have been found to be responsible for 90 percent of HPV-related cancers. The vaccine is recommended for preteen girls and boys to protect them before exposure to the virus, with catch-up vaccinations through age 26. Last year, the FDA expanded its approval for the vaccine to include adults up to age 45.
For adults, the decision to get the vaccine should be based on each person’s sexual experiences and expectations. Although most adults above the age of 26 do not need the vaccine, it may be beneficial for a small number for protection from HPV strains to which they have not yet been exposed. Public health experts say that the decision should be discussed with the person’s doctor before a choice is made.