I applaud you for being proactive and asking questions! I also am happy your family physician initiated the important conversation about HPV vaccines. First things first: HPV vaccines are indeed safe, having been tested with thousands of boys, girls, young men and women around the world. The vaccines have been found to be well tolerated, safe and effective in both sexes. Most common side effects include mild skin irritation and redness at the site of the injection. There have been reports of some patients fainting after receiving the vaccines, but this is actually common with vaccines and adolescents in general, and can be avoided by simply sitting or laying down for 15 minutes or so after being vaccinated.
Remember that HPV is most definitely not a “female” infection only. As is the case with females, most males will contract HPV in their lifetimes. HPV can cause genital warts, penile, anal, head and neck cancers in men. Recent studies show that HPV related head and neck cancers are more common in males than females. So far Gardasil® (made by Merck) has been approved in males for prevention genital warts. Their effectiveness to prevent HPV related male cancers is currently being studied. Maybe one day research will show us that HPV vaccines are of value with these cancers, too. As men and women pass the virus among sexual partners, it makes public health sense to vaccinate men in order to reduce the viral load in the society.
–Shobha Krishnan, MD