The HPV vaccine has been the subject of much controversy, primarily because it is recommended for preteens prior to becoming sexually active. It is important for all parents to discuss the pros and cons of HPV vaccines with their children to inform, educate, and help protect them from the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
Why Should My Child Get an HPV Vaccine?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 79 million Americans are infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is actually a group of more than 120 viruses. More than 40 of these virus strains cause infections in the throats and genital areas of both males and females.
Of the approximately 14 million people who become infected every year, most will never even know that they are infected because they will experience no symptoms. Ninety percent of HPV infections go away within two years of infection with no treatment. However, even in the absence of symptoms, a carrier can still infect other people.
The presence of genital warts are a noticeable sign of certain types of HPV infection, and the CDC estimates that approximately 360,000 people in the United States contracts genital warts each year. Some specific types of HPV viruses can lead to precancerous cell formation and eventually to cancers of the cervix, throat, vulva, anus, vagina, and penis. The CDC estimates that approximately 17,500 women and 9,300 men contract HPV-related cancers annually.
When Should The HPV Vaccine Be Given?
The CDC recommends that the HPV vaccine be given to children between the ages of 11 and 12 years of age. It is most effective at producing high levels of infection-fighting antibodies at that age. The vaccine is also most effective at preventing infection if administered before any exposure to HPV has been experienced during sexual activity.
Studies show that most women and girls who become infected with HPV are exposed to the virus within two to five years of the onset of sexual activity. While teens can still benefit if they receive the vaccine after they have become sexually active, it may be ineffective in preventing infection from HPV strains that they have already been exposed to. However, because it’s unlikely that they have been exposed to all types of HPV viruses targeted by the vaccine, adult women up to the age of 26 years can still benefit, and men up to age 21.
The Gardasil® series protects against genital warts in both boys and girls. The vaccine is recommended to protect boys from HPV-related cancers and also from passing the virus on to sexual partners. Gardasil® offers girls additional protection against some strains of the HPV virus known to cause cervical cancer, but because it does not protect against all strains, girls require regular Pap tests.
Are There Cons Associated with the HPV Vaccine?
According to the CDC, between 2006 and 2014, approximately 25,000 women and girls experienced side effects after receiving the HPV vaccine. While 8% of these were considered serious, the majority of reactions involved: “fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever, hives, and localized pain, redness, and swelling at the sight of the injection.”
Because fainting after the injection is common in pre-teens and teens, the CDC suggests that individuals remain seated or lie down for 15 minutes post-injection.
Is the HPV Vaccine Safe?
Studies show that because the HPV vaccines do not contain live viruses, they cannot cause an HPV infection and are deemed to be both effective and safe. Although 47 confirmed deaths were reported between 2006 and 2014 in people who received the Gardasil® vaccine, no consistent time frame of death was found after receipt of the vaccine, no consistent dose was correlated with death, and no conclusive diagnosis pointed to the Gardasil® vaccine as the cause of death, according to the CDC.
Despite the concern of anxious parents who fear the vaccine may be perceived as granting a preteen permission to become sexually active, studies show this is not the case. The vaccine is not correlated with earlier onset of sexual activity in teenagers.
Please contact us here at The Woman’s Clinic to discuss if your daughter or son is an appropriate candidate for the HPV vaccine at this time or if you have additional questions about the vaccine, call our office to make an appointment at 501-222-4175.