What Parents Need to Know About HPV
Prevention is the best way to avoid illness and disease—including HPV or human papillomavirus. HPV remains the nation’s most common sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD), and the leading cause of cervical cancer among women. In addition, HPV is linked to vulvar and vaginal cancers in women, penile cancers in men, and oral and anal cancers in both men and women.
Polyclinic physicians advocate that our patients—both girls and boys—get the vaccine before becoming sexually active. Eleven or 12 years old is the ideal age to get the HPV vaccine. It’s an effective way to prevent HPV cancers and we consider the HPV vaccine to be an “anti-cancer” vaccine.
Vaccine Provides Long-Term HPV Immunity
On the market since 2006, the HPV vaccine is a series of shots that offer long-term—possibly life-long—immunity to HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be closely monitoring this to make sure a later booster isn’t needed. Since its introduction, the CDC reports a 56% reduction in HPV infections nationally. The data from the past 10 years of clinical follow up shows that immunity to HPV is long lasting and has not shown any evidence of waning immunity after 10 years.
New HPV Guidelines in 2016
In October 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) released new guidelines on HPV vaccination. They now recommend just two doses of the HPV vaccine, given 6 months apart, for younger kids ages 11 to 14. Younger kids have shown to develop better immunity against HPV than older kids. Three doses of the vaccine are still recommended for older teens and young adults, ages 15 to 26, who start the vaccine series later. These new guidelines will make it even easier for parents to protect their children against cancers caused by HPV and encourage them to do so early.
At The Polyclinic Pediatrics Department, we’ve made great progress on HPV vaccination rates in the last few years. A few of the ways we’ve done so is through outreach calls to patients, special vaccination events, and providing shot-only appointments on Saturdays.
Polyclinic Vaccination Rates Beat State, National Averages
The Polyclinic’s vaccination rates are much higher than the rates in Washington state or the rest of the nation. In Washington about 65% of teen girls age 13 to 17 have started the vaccine and 46% of teen boys age 13 to 17 have started the vaccine, compared to 93% of Polyclinic teen girls and teen boys who have started the vaccine. Ideally, we’d like to see our patients complete the series by age 13, as the vaccine is most effective when administered long before they begin sexual activity. The national goal is to have more than 80 percent of teens complete the HPV series.
Who is impacted by HPV?
About 17,600 women and 9,300 men are impacted by cancers caused by HPV each year, according to the CDC. Additionally, HPV can cause genital warts, affecting about 180,000 women and 160,000 men every year. Even worse are the current numbers of those latently infected: about 79 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV virus, and an additional 14 million people become infected every year.
Many people with HPV do not know they have it, and in some cases never manifest symptoms. The virus spreads whether symptoms are present or not. Adding to the challenge is the fact that people can pass it on to partners even with condom use, since HPV can affect areas not covered by a condom.
If you’re the parent of a young child, learn more about HPV in the FAQ below. Talk with your child’s doctor about getting the HPV vaccine started and completed at the recommended ages.
Frequently Asked Questions about HPV
Q: Does my child really need it? Cervical cancer isn’t that common.
A: Cervical cancer rates have declined significantly over the past 40 years. But according to the CDC, in 2012 (the most recent year numbers are available), over 12,000 women were diagnosed, and over 4,000 died from cervical cancer. The majority of those cervical cancers are preventable with the vaccine. Plus HPV causes several types of other cancers in men and women.
Q: Eleven or 12? My child hasn’t even hit puberty yet!
A: The age recommendation for 11- or 12-year-olds to begin the series is because the vaccine is most effective if the series is completed long before sexual activity begins. Studies indicate that kids are an average age of 15 when they begin sexual activity. Some 11- and 12-year-olds are already exposed to HPV from skin-to-skin contact through sexual exploration or in some cases from abuse.
Q: But isn’t getting the vaccine basically giving a kid permission to have sex?
A: No, data does not back that up. In fact, data supports the opposite—that kids delay sex when age-appropriate education about sexual health is provided. We try to stress that this is a cancer-preventing vaccine, and the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted is simply the way it is spread.
Q: I’m concerned about the side effects of the vaccine.
A: Side effects of the vaccine are rare. The HPV vaccines have been on the market since 2006, with additional five years of clinical trials prior, according to the CDC. It is not a new, untested vaccine. Those reported range from mild pain at the injection side, nausea, dizziness, headache or fever. Reports of fainting after getting the HPV vaccine can concern some patients, but fainting from needles is not unusual among teenagers. Indeed, the CDC monitors vaccine safety and reports that while rare, fainting can occur after HPV vaccination, and recommend the vaccine be given when the patient is seated or lying down.
Severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions are very rare after vaccination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Information, the rate for a vaccine-associated case of anaphylaxis in the U.S. is 1 for every 1.7 million doses. The CDC and the WHO report that blood clots, deep vein thrombosis or even death after vaccination did not reveal a pattern sourcing from the vaccination. Repeated studies support the overwhelming statistical safety of vaccines against the diseases they prevent in contrast to rates of contracting the disease if unvaccinated. A young person has a much higher chance of contracting HPV than she or he does experiencing an adverse reaction to the vaccine.
Q: Vaccination is against my religion
A: While certain religions may discourage consuming pork products (found in some vaccines), no single religion specifically dictates avoidance of vaccines all together.
Q: My insurance won’t pay for it.
A: Washington state pays for all kids under the age of 19 to be vaccinated. The most a patient will pay is a small administrative fee to get the shot at your doctor’s office.