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HPV vaccine: The other vaccine your kids need

By The Health News Team | January 25, 2024
Girl receiving vaccine

As a parent, you try to cover all the bases when it comes to protecting your kids. You don’t let them leave the house on a cold day without a coat or on a sunny day without sunscreen. And while you can't protect your children from everything, you may be surprised to learn you can help protect them from certain cancers — including HPV.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) — a common virus that infects people of all genders — is transmissible through direct skin-to-skin contact and causes about 37,000 new cancer cases in the U.S. each year. The HPV vaccine is the first and only vaccination that helps protect against the many types of cancer associated with different HPV strains.

And this is why parents are encouraged to keep the HPV vaccine at the top of their children’s must-have vaccine list.

HPV causes cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 13 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers, penile cancer, anal cancer, cancer of the back of the throat, and genital warts. The vaccine is given to children long before they might be exposed to the cancer-causing virus.

“HPV vaccination is cancer prevention,” says Dr. Jershonda Hartsfield, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “The HPV vaccine is recommended to help reduce children’s risk of cancer; and studies show that they are best protected before they have ever been exposed to the HPV infection.”

When kids should be vaccinated

The CDC recommends that all children who are age 9 and older should get two shots of HPV vaccine, 6 to 12 months apart. If a child receives both shots less than 5 months apart, they will need a third dose for best protection. Additionally, children who start the vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday need three shots given over 6 months.

If your child is nearing age 9 or older, Dr. Hartsfield recommends you contact their doctor to get them vaccinated as soon as possible. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for everyone through age 26 who is not adequately vaccinated already.

“The opportunity to protect your young child is now,” Dr. Hartsfield says. “And children who receive the vaccine prior to their 15th birthday can enjoy the additional benefit of fewer injections.”

Addressing parents’ concerns

Dr. Hartsfield acknowledges that some parents have expressed concern that having their child vaccinated against HPV might mean they are more likely to become sexually active or to assume that receiving the vaccination implies their parents encourage intimate activity. However, she and other experts emphasize that studies show that getting the HPV vaccine doesn’t make kids more likely to start having sex.

What’s more, while parents have also shared fears the vaccine could affect their child’s fertility, the opposite is actually true. There is no evidence available to suggest that getting the HPV vaccine will have an effect on future fertility.

However, women who develop an HPV precancer or cancer could require treatment that would limit their ability to have children. The HPV vaccine provides safe, effective and long-term protection against such cancers.

“It is reasonable for people to have questions, and I encourage parents to ask them, discuss them with their child’s doctor and research their specific concerns,” Dr. Hartsfield says. “The research shows that the HPV vaccine is safe.”

What to expect

When it comes to concerns about possible vaccine side effects, parents can rest easy in knowing that common side effects from the HPV vaccine are mild and resolve quickly. These include:

  • Pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given

  • Fever

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Nausea

  • Headache or fatigue

  • Muscle or joint pain

When receiving the vaccination, kids should be seated or lying down, and remain in that position for 15 minutes after vaccination for observation. Talk with your doctor before vaccination if your child has any severe allergies, including an allergy to latex or yeast.

“The HPV vaccine has gone through rigorous trials and is safe and effective in reducing cancerous and precancerous lesions in male and female patients,” Dr. Hartsfield says. “Take this opportunity to protect your child now.”

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