January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which means it’s a good time to talk about the HPV vaccine. The vaccine was released for use in June 2006. While it has already been available for over 10 years and has been given to over 80 million people, the HPV vaccine is one of the newer vaccines and thus raises a lot of questions, including concerns about its safety.
Is it safe?
Yes, the vaccine itself is very safe and quite effective. Clinical trials have shown that HPV vaccines provide close to 100 percent protection against cervical pre-cancers and genital warts. And all vaccines go through years of rigorous testing before they are released for use.
Here are some other common questions answered:
What is HPV?
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a very common sexually transmitted virus. It’s so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Most get it and pass it on without knowing they have it. About 80 million people, or one in four, are currently infected in the United States.
Why is it a problem?
The HPV infection can cause many types of health problems in both men and women. In women, the virus causes cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Men with HPV can get penile cancer. Both genders can also get anal cancer, cancer of the back of the throat, and genital warts. These health problems may later lead to fertility issues.
My child is young and nowhere near being sexually active. Why do we need the vaccine now?
The preteen years at ages 11 or 12 are best for the vaccine. For the vaccine to work most effectively, all doses must be given before any exposure to HPV. Plus, the vaccine produces a more robust immune system response if the doses are given at this time.
Christine Macomber, MD, Generations’ pediatrician on staff explains her reasoning for administering the vaccine to her own children. “With the gardasil vaccine, I have been given the opportunity to reduce my children’s risk of getting a cancer with low risk intervention. Two of my children have already received the vaccine series; the other two will when they are eligible.”
My teen hasn’t had the vaccine yet. Is it too late?
Teen boys and girls who did not start or finish the HPV vaccine series when they were younger should get it now. In general, young women can get the HPV vaccine through age 26, while young men can get vaccinated through age 21.
How is it administered?
The vaccine is given in a series of two or three shots, spaced out during a period of several months – depending on the age at which the series is started.
What are the side effects of vaccination?
Some people have no side effects. Those who experience them usually report mild side effects, such as a sore arm where the shot was given. Brief fainting spells may occur after any medical procedure, including vaccinations. Other side effects include a fever, headache, nausea, muscle, or joint pain. HPV vaccine does not cause HPV infection or cancer.
Why is this vaccine not mandated for school entry?
Each state determines which vaccines are required for school entry. In North Carolina, this vaccine is not required, but it is recommended.
If you have more questions about the vaccine, contact us to schedule an appointment. We’ll be happy to address any of your concerns.