What’s the best way to protect teenage girls from sexually transmitted diseases? Some doctors in Charlotte say the answer is to vaccinate boys.
More than 65 million Americans – that’s one in five – carry a sexually transmitted disease. The most common one – the human papilloma virus, or HPV – affects more than half of sexually active Americans at some point, according to the federal government.
Since 2007, health officials have recommended that adolescent girls get vaccinated against HPV because it can lead to cervical cancer later in life.
Now, they’re also suggesting the vaccine for boys to prevent genital warts and anal cancer, rare symptoms of HPV. But for some doctors, vaccinating boys is also a favored new strategy in preventing the spread of the virus to girls.
Dr. Sameena Evers, a physician at Dilworth Pediatrics, encourages boys to get vaccinated against HPV “so that girls don’t get it.” This kind of practice is called “herd immunity,” or vaccinating one segment of the population to protect another.
“It’s no surprise that women are getting it from the men in the world,” said Evers.
Officials say that along with Pap smears, vaccinating girls is the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
They say it’s as important for girls as vaccinating against illnesses like tetanus, meningitis, and the flu. The series of three shots cost about $400 or more but are covered by Medicaid and most private insurance programs.
Since the approval of the vaccine for boys in 2009, health officials have debated whether vaccinating boys for girls’ sake is an effective way to control cervical cancer. In part, there are questions about how long the vaccine stays active in boys’ bodies.