Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in 2009.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency advisory committee has voted to recommend that the three-dose vaccine to prevent human papilloma virus, or HPV, be given to boys at age 11 or 12, CNN reports.

A separate vote recommending the vaccine for males between ages 13 to 21 was split, according to CNN. The same panel said that the vaccine can be started as early as age 9.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, CNN reports, with at least half of all sexually active people contracting it.

HPV causes cancers of the vagina, cervix, vulva, anus, penis and back of the throat, as well as genital warts, USA Today reports. A new study out this week also links HPV to heart disease in women.

More from GlobalPost: Human papillomavirus (HPV) linked to heart disease in study

The CDC recommends girls get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, CNN reports.

According to The Associated Press:

The HPV vaccine has been recommended for young girls to protect them against cervical cancer and genital warts for the last five years. But the vaccine has been slow to catch on — only about a third of adolescent girls have gotten all three shots.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention administrator who oversees the agency’s immunization programs, told the AP that the low rates of immunization among girls stem in part from a misunderstanding that the shots can be given after a girl becomes sexually active. The vaccine only works if it is given before a girl begins having sex.

The low number of girls getting vaccinated against HPV is a major reason the CDC advisory panel is recommending the vaccine for boys, CNN reports. "If the boys are also immunized, it reduces the transmission back and forth," Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University who attended the CDC meeting but not as a voting member, told CNN.

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