As parents of pre-teen children are preparing to get their kids off to school, they are not thinking about another vaccine. As it turns out, however, this is the exact time that we should look at one more – the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Now prepare yourself, this is a touchy subject…
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. The HPV vaccine is a shot recommended for 11-12 year old children to help prevent the spread of the virus.
I know, our kids aren’t sexually active at this age and the word “vaccine” is sort of a dirty word. At first I was skeptical about yet another one to give our kids but consider the facts from the CDC:
• Approx. 6 million Americans are infected with HPV each year
• If left untreated, certain types of HPV will later become cervical cancer
• Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women
As I have been seeing patients for well over a decade, I have unfortunately had that difficult conversation about cervical cancer. Whether it is advanced or caught early, it is a devastating blow to a family.
The vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in females plus prevent genital warts in both males and females. The trick is, however, that the vaccine has to be given BEFORE they are exposed to HPV. That means they need the shot before their first sexual encounter which is why the CDC’s Advisory Committee recommends a 3-dose vaccination of girls aged 9 -26 years old, preferably those aged 11-12.
Now, we have an opportunity to all but eliminate that cancer conversation. The hardest part is giving our young children another shot in advance their future sexual encounters. That is uncomfortable for any of us to consider.
As an ob/gyn I read the studies but as a father and a husband, I changed my opinion. The vaccine is considered safe by the FDA and CDC and has been used in the U.S. and around the world for several years.
As with anything, we should assess how our children react to different vaccines. But as they head off to school this year we should also keep their future health in mind and protect them the best we can.