This is a question I get asked almost every day by parents of teenage and preteen girls (and some boys). My standard answer is yes. Why? There are very few cancers that we have discovered a vaccine for, and those caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) fall within that category. The HPV vaccine provides almost 100% protection from HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 if all three doses are taken at the correct intervals and if it is given before a person contracts one of these infections.
HPV is a very common virus, passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin sexual contact, including vaginal, oral and anal sex. It is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. Almost all sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it.
In the United States alone, nearly 80 million people—about 1 in 4—are currently infected. HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women; penile cancer in men; and anal cancer, cancer of the back of the throat (oropharynx), and genital warts in both men and women. Many of these cancers (which in some cases are fatal) could be prevented with vaccination.
At what age should my child be vaccinated?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls aged 11 or 12 so that they are protected before they are ever exposed to the virus by becoming sexually active, but it can be given as young as 9 years old. HPV vaccine also increases the immune response during the preteen years. Also, older teens typically are less likely to get check-ups than preteens.
How often is the HPV vaccine given?
The HPV vaccine is given in 3 shots.
- Injection #1
- Injection #2 given 2 months after the 1st shot
- Injection #3 is given 5-6 months after the 2nd
The CDC strongly recommends that patients take the full HPV vaccine series to receive full effectiveness and protection against HPV infection.
My child is not sexually active. Why does he/she need the vaccine?
I hear this a lot from my younger patients’ parents, and because it deals with sex, it’s a touchy subject for many families. What I tell my patients and their parents is that, hands down, the HPV vaccine offers the best protection for girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses because their bodies then have time to develop an immune response before they begin sexual activity.
This is not to say that your preteen is ready to have sex, or that I am condoning or encouraging sex at her/his age. In fact, just the opposite—I tell parents that it’s very important for their child to be protected now, before engaging in sex (hopefully that will be years down the road). In addition, the body’s immune response to this vaccine is greater in preteens, which means better protection for your child if given in her/his early teen years.
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
Yes. The HPV vaccination has been studied very carefully and continues to be monitored by CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No serious safety concerns have been linked to HPV vaccination. For more information, I recommend these 3 articles from the CDC:
- HPV Vaccines for Boys and Girls
- CDC Feature: Are your kids protected from HPV-related cancers?
- Frequently Asked Questions about HPV Vaccines
For more information about the HPV vaccine, please contact us
If you would like to know more about HPV infection and the vaccine that can prevent it, please contact us at Westchester Health to see one of our gynecology specialists. We’ll listen to your concerns, discuss all the options, and together (perhaps with your child too), agree on a plan of action.