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Should Men Get the HPV Vaccine?

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Key Takeaways

  • The HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers in both men and women.
  • Recent research found that males and females experience similar side effects—and benefits—of the HPV vaccine.
  • The most common side effect is fainting after getting the shot, but it does not lead to any long-term issues.

When a vaccine to protect against the most common forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) was first released, it was largely marketed for preteen girls. A growing body of evidence has shown that boys can benefit from the vaccine. Now, new research has found that the shot is also safe for boys.

A new analysis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that HPV vaccines are safe and well-tolerated in males (previous research had largely focused on females). The analysis also found that the potential side effects are similar to what female patients have reported.

The analysis studied 5,493 adverse events following immunization that were reported to the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System from January 1, 2006, to September 30, 2018.

Side effects didn't happen often but the most common side effects reported in both men and women were:

  • Syncope (fainting or "passing out")
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fall

It’s unclear whether the vaccine or getting the shot is what caused the side effects, such as passing out.

The researchers concluded that “the HPV vaccines are generally well tolerated in males, although limitations own of spontaneous reporting should be considered."

What Is HPV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain forms of cancer, including cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and back of the throat.

HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.

According to the CDC, nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV. About 14 million Americans, including teens, will become infected each year.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, including having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.

There is no way to know if a person infected with HPV will develop cancer or other conditions. However, people with weakened immune systems might be more likely to develop health problems if they contract the virus.

HPV Vaccine Recommendations

Currently, the CDC recommends vaccinating boys and girls against HPV, starting at age 11 or 12. The vaccine is given in two doses, with the second delivered six to 12 months after the first. Children who start the vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday will need to receive three shots given over six months.

HPV vaccination is also recommended for everyone through the age of 26 (if they have not already been vaccinated). According to the CDC, some adults up to age 45 may benefit from the shot. The CDC states that “HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV."

What Experts Say

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell that he “absolutely” recommends that boys receive the HPV vaccine. “There is no downside and it can reduce the risk of cancer."

Electra Paskett, PhD

Men are thought of as the ‘reservoirs’ for HPV and can pass it to their partners.

— Electra Paskett, PhD

Males who are vaccinated can also help stop the spread of HPV to others, Electra Paskett, PhD, a population sciences researcher with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells Verywell. “Men are thought of as the ‘reservoirs’ for HPV and can pass it to their partners. In addition, several of HPV-related cancers, especially head and neck cancer, are rising in men, and this is cancer that is caused by HPV.”

Experts stress that the vaccine is safe. “It would not be recommended and approved if it were not safe,” Paskett says.

Overall, doctors stress the importance of boys and young men getting vaccinated against HPV. “You too have a role in eliminating HPV-related cancers,” says Paskett. “Do your part!”

What This Means For You

While the HPV vaccine is often marketed as a vaccine for girls, research has shown that it is safe and effective for boys, too. All parents should discuss the HPV vaccine with their child's doctor.

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Article Sources
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  1. Bonaldo G, Montanaro N, Vaccheri A, Motola D. Human papilloma virus vaccination in males: a pharmacovigilance study on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting SystemBr J Clin Pharmacol. Published online November 3, 2020:bcp.14584. doi:10.1111/bcp.14584

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV cancers. Updated April 29, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About HPV. Updated April 29, 2019.

  4. American Cancer Society. HPV and cancer. Updated July 30, 2020.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccinating boys and girls against HPV. Updated August 15, 2019.