The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is most effective prior to exposure to the virus. There is no reason to wait until puberty. Preteens should receive the vaccine before they begin any type of sexual activity.
As parents take their children to the doctor for a back-to-school checkup, here is what they need to know about the HPV vaccine in order to make an informed decision.
HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people get it at some point in their lives.
Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, but, sometimes, HPV can cause cancer, such as cervical and vaginal cancer in women and cancer of the penis in men. Some types of HPV can also lead to genital warts.
HPV affects both girls and boys. Exposure to the virus can happen with any kind of adolescent experimentation that involves genital contact with someone who has HPV, but intercourse is the most common way to get the virus.
There are no visible signs or symptoms of HPV infection, so anyone can pass the virus along without even knowing it.
The good news is, the Centers for Disease Control now recommend that 11- to 12-year-olds get only two doses of HPV vaccine – rather than the previously recommended three doses – to protect against cancers caused by HPV.
The second dose should be given six to 12 months after the first dose. Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26 years old, will continue to need three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infection.
The CDC changed their recommendation for younger children after reviewing data from clinical trials showing two doses of the vaccine produced an immune response similar or higher than the response in young adults who received three doses.
According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine is very safe and is effective at preventing HPV. Some people report mild side effects immediately after the vaccine, such as pain or swelling where the shot was given, fever, headache, nausea, or muscle pain.
After parents learn of the preventable dangers associated with the HPV infection, many decide to give the vaccine to their children to make sure that they are protected later in life.
Don’t take a chance. Vaccinate your sons and daughters this year at their annual back-to-school physical.
Dr. Walid Michelen is chief medical officer at NYC Health+Hospitals/Gotham Health.