5 reasons your tween should get the HPV vaccine

June 21, 2017 | by Jonathan Gibson, M.D.

As parents, we try to cover all the bases when it comes to protecting our kids.

We don’t let them leave the house on a bitter cold day without a heavy coat, or on a hot sunny day without sunscreen. We teach them to avoid strangers and not to play with dangerous things like matches.

We protect them from deadly diseases like polio and whooping cough with vaccines. We should also vaccinate them against human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV infects nearly everyone and can cause cancer. Anyone who has been sexually active can contract HPV. The virus is so common, most people contract HPV soon after they become sexually active. You can get HPV even if you’ve had only one sexual partner.

If most people contract HPV and it usually goes away on its own in two years, why should your tween get the HPV vaccine?

Here are five reasons:

The HPV shot is a cancer vaccine. Human papillomavirus, a common virus spread through sex, can cause genital warts and several kinds of cancer, including throat and cervical cancer.

It works best before you’re sexually active. Getting this vaccine before one becomes sexually active could provide complete protection from this common virus. If you already have the virus, the vaccine will not get rid of it.

The American Cancer Society recommends girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine as part of their routine immunizations at age 11 or 12, but the vaccination series can be started as early as age 9.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently reduced the number of HPV vaccine shots from three to two, for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14. Three doses of the HPV vaccine are still recommended for children starting the vaccination series on or after the child’s 15th birthday, through 26 years of age.

The CDC’s decision was based on studies that have shown that two doses of HPV vaccine given at least 6 months apart to adolescents at ages 9-14 worked as well or better than three doses given to older adolescents and young adults.

In addition, an improved version of the Gardasil 9 (a version of the vaccine approved by the FDA in 2014) now has increased protection against cancers. The earlier version only protected against four types of HPV.

The vaccine won’t influence your child to have sex. It protects them from cancer before you need to think about the issue. According to the CDC, the immune response to this vaccine is better in preteens, and this could mean better protection for your child.

The HPV vaccine is safe. The chances that the HPV vaccine (or any vaccine) will make you sick are slim. If anything, your child may experience mild side effects like redness or pain at the injection site, dizziness or a headache. The Food and Drug Administration studied, tested and licensed the vaccines and studies continue to show that HPV vaccines are safe.

The HPV vaccine works. In the four years after the vaccine was first recommended (in 2006), the number of HPV infections in teen girls decreased by 64 percent. Research has also shown that fewer teens are also getting genital warts since HPV vaccines have been in use.

While it’s best to start the series of shots young and follow the recommended timeline, females may still get the vaccine through age 26 and males through age 21, whether they stopped after one shot or didn’t have any shots. You would not have to repeat any previous injections.

Talk to your pediatrician about the HPV vaccine and protect your children from life-threatening disease.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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