Ask a Doc: Should I vaccinate my child against HPV?
Q: I’ve seen TV commercials urging parents to vaccinate their pre-teens and teens against HPV. Should I do this?
Dr. Thomas Dovidio, a pediatrician at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., answers:
Before you can decide if you should vaccinate your child against HPV or human papilloma virus, it’s important to understand what HPV is, what types of cancers it may be linked to, and what the latest research on vaccinations suggests.
What is HPV?
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can affect the skin and the moist membranes that line parts of the body, such as the lining of the mouth and throat, the vagina, the cervix, etc.
The virus is so common that most sexually active people will get some strain of the virus at some point in their life, but it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms and goes away on its own. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year.
However, some strains can cause warts, and others may be linked to an increased risk of cancer. The HPV vaccination is intended for those strains suspected of being linked to cancer.
The TV commercials you are seeing are encouraging parents to vaccinate their pre-teens and teens before they become sexually active to reduce their risk for contracting cancer-causing strains of HPV.
What type of cancers are linked to HPV?
HPV can cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, cancer of the vulva and mouth, and throat cancers. In most cases, our immune system can fight off HPV. When the body is unable to fight off the HPV infection, the virus causes mutations in cells which build up over time and can turn into cancer.
While Pap smears test for cervical HPV in women, there are no other tests that check for HPV in other parts of the body in men, women, or children.
What’s the latest research of HPV vaccinations?
The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that both girls and boys be vaccinated against HPV beginning at ages 11 or 12. Previous studies suggested that the vaccine be given in three doses several months apart.
New research released last week by the CDC recommends that 11- to 14-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart rather than the previously recommended three doses to protect against cancers caused by HPV infections. Teens and young adults ages 15 through 26 years will continue to need three doses of HPV vaccine.
The research showed that in clinical trials, two doses of HPV vaccine in pre-teens aged 9-14 years produced an immune response similar or higher than the response in young adults (aged 16-26 years) who received three doses, suggesting that two doses is safe and effective for this age group.
So, should I get my child vaccinated?
I have many discussions with parents regarding this vaccine. While it is not a required vaccine for school entry, it is still a very good vaccine to consider giving to your child once they turn 11 years old. I strongly recommend talking with your primary care provider regarding the vaccine if you have any questions.
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About the Author
Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, health enews contributor, is public affairs director for Advocate Medical Group and Advocate Physician Partners.