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Boys can take Gardasil, too

A nurse practitioner prepares a vaccination.

A nurse practitioner prepares a vaccination. Credit: AP

I noticed a Gardasil advertisement with a picture of a boy. I thought the HPV vaccine was for girls. Is it now recommended for boys as well?

Yes. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended boys as well as girls get the vaccine to protect against the sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts and could lead to cervical cancer in girls and anal or penile cancer in boys, said Dr. Joseph Bocchini, past chair of the Academy's committee on infectious diseases.

The vaccine was recommended in 2006 for girls between 9 and 26 to protect against four strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV. Two vaccines are available, Gardasil and Cervarix, but only Gardasil is approved for boys, also for ages 9 to 26, says Dr. Bruce Gerberg, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Huntington Hospital. It is given in three doses over six months. Common side effects include redness, rash and ache in the area of the shot.

Gerberg hasn't begun pushing the vaccine for boys because he wants to assess parental reaction first, he said. "Every new vaccine causes more apprehension," Gerberg said. Parents go online, read about rare reactions and get scared.

For boys, the risk of anal or penile cancer is low, Gerberg said, and "it might be a hard sell to some parents." But the vaccine would protect boys against some genital warts, which are curable but uncomfortable and embarrassing. And vaccinating boys as well as girls creates a "herd immunity" that protects everyone, he said.

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