Children who start getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus virus before age 15 only need two doses, according to a new recommendation from government advisers.
The previous guidance was for a three-shot regimen, but studies have shown that two doses work just as well. Experts predict that the simpler, more flexible time line will result in higher rates of HPV vaccination, which has lagged among both girls and boys.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which counsels the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention on the nation’s vaccine schedule, voted Wednesday for the change. The CDC is expected to accept the recommendation.
Under the new schedule, the first of two doses of the HPV vaccine should be administered at ages 11 or 12, although it could be given as early as age 9. The second dose would be administered six to 12 months after the first dose.
The new recommendation does not apply to adolescents who begin getting vaccinated after they turn 15. They should still get three shots over a six-month period, the panel said.
The HPV vaccine prevents cervical, vaginal, anal, and head and neck cancers, as well as precancerous lesions and genital warts. The most widely used vaccine is Gardasil, manufactured by Merck.
The rate of HPV inoculation, while increasing in the last year or so, remains below that of other childhood vaccines. Last year, for example, about half of boys ages 13 to 17 had gotten at least one of the recommended three doses, while about 63 percent of girls had gotten at least one dose, according to the CDC.
Cancer experts and public health officials hope a two-shot regimen will boost those figures.
“By reducing the number of doses needed to complete HPV vaccination, it should lead to an increase in the percentage of eligible boys and girls who get vaccinated,” said Douglas Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute. Lowy and his NCI colleague John Schiller developed the technology that underlies the HPV vaccine.