Fewer Than 20% of Young Adult Men Have Received HPV Vaccine

Aislinn Antrim, Associate Editor

Although young women were the original targets of human papillomavirus vaccine outreach after its approval in 2006, the increasing rates oropharyngeal cancer has made vaccination for young men even more important.

New research suggests that very few men between 18 and 21 years of age have received at least 1 dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at any time, compared to more than 40% of women in the same age range.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends 2 doses of the vaccine administered at 11 or 12 years of age, although patients can still benefit from the vaccine if they receive it later, as long as 3 doses are administered by age 26. According to researchers at Michigan Medicine, however, just 16% of men and 42% of women aged 18 to 21 years have received a single dose at any time.

“Eighteen- to 21-year-olds are at this age where they’re making health care decisions on their own for the first time,” said first author Michelle M. Chen, MD, a clinical lecturer in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, in a press release. “They’re in a period of a lot of transition, but young adult men especially, who are less likely to have a primary care doctor, are often not getting health education about things like cancer prevention vaccines.”

The HPV vaccine was designed to prevent reproductive warts and cancers caused by the virus, which the study authors said is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The vaccine was approved by the FDA for women in 2006 and for men in 2009.

At the time, preventing cervical cancer was a primary focus for investigators studying the virus, so girls and women were more likely to hear about the vaccine from their physicians or pharmacists. However, oropharyngeal cancer has now surpassed cervical cancer as the leading cancer caused by HPV, and 80% of those diagnosed with this cancer are men. In the press release, Chen said this has created a new need to vaccinate men.

“I don’t think that a lot of people, both providers and patients, are aware that this vaccine is actually a cancer-prevention vaccine for men as well as women,” Chen said in the press release. “But HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer can impact anyone—and there’s no good screening for it, which makes vaccination even more important.

Chen added that she believes a dual-prong approach is necessary to increase HPV vaccination rates for men, including renewed pushes from health care providers to target children, as well as outreach to university health services and fraternity houses for young adult men who may have missed the vaccine when they were younger. In addition to physicians, urgent care providers, and emergency department providers, pharmacists can play a vital role in this outreach.

REFERENCE

Few Young Adult Men Have Gotten the HPV Vaccine [news release]. Michigan Health Lab; April 27, 2021. https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/rounds/few-young-adult-men-have-gotten-hpv-vaccine. Accessed April 29, 2021.