By: Tara Brito, MD
Most of us will be infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in our lives. There are over 150 different types of the virus, most of which cause no symptoms and clear on their own, without treatment. “Low-risk” HPV types cause genital warts. But the virus also has a more sinister side. “High-risk” HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancer, and HPV can lead to vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and oral cancers. Sadly, HPV cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious, and hard to treat.
As a pediatrician, I am continually confronted with parents who understand the risks of HPV and know the HPV vaccine protects against HPV cancers; yet, are hesitant to give their child this safe, effective vaccine. All parents want what’s best for their child, they have the best intentions, and strive to keep their child healthy. It’s hard to imagine that their preteen will be infected with HPV. HPV-caused cancer is a distant risk. With this outlook it’s easy to see why parents choose to wait.
I’m here to tell you that you can’t wait to vaccinate. Like all vaccines, the HPV vaccine needs to be given long before any HPV exposure. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends vaccinating boys and girls at 11 and 12 because the vaccine produces the best immune response in ages 9-12.
HPV vaccination is our best defense in stopping HPV infection in our children and preventing HPV-associated cancers in our communities.
If you are still hesitant, please consider the following key points I discuss with my patients and their families:
Does the vaccine work?
- Clinical data has shown close to 100% protection against cervical pre-cancers and genital warts.
- Studies demonstrate no decline in protection over at least 10 years.
Can I wait until my child is older to get the vaccine?
- To be most effective, the vaccine should be given prior to initial exposure.
- Evidence shows a stronger antibody immune response in younger adolescents who therefore require only 2 shots instead of 3.
Is the vaccine safe?
- All vaccines go through extensive safety testing on thousands of patients before being licensed by the FDA.
- To date more than 205 million HPV vaccines have been given worldwide and 90 million in the United States without significant safety concerns.
Why is the vaccine not required for school?
- School requirements often lag behind medical recommendations.
- The HPV vaccine is strongly recommended for girls and boys by the AAP and the CDC.
Want to learn more about the HPV vaccine? Ask your pediatrician! You can also check out the following websites:
Dr. Tara Brito is a Lurie Children’s community physician at Oak Park Pediatrics.