Ask a Doc: Should I vaccinate my child against HPV?

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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  1. If the child is not sexually actve until marriage, the vaccine is not required, right?

    • Jennifer Benson
      Dr. Thomas Dovidio March 26, 2017 at 8:47 pm · Reply

      The vaccine is not required in the state of Illinois, it is optional, but recommended. If someone has already been exposed to HPV via intercourse than the vaccine will be less effective. If someone has not been sexually active than the vaccine will remain effective for them whenever they get it. Currently is it approved through age 26 yrs old. Below if information I pulled from the CDC site.

      Q: Who should get HPV vaccine?
      A: All girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old should get the recommended series of HPV vaccine. The vaccination series can be started at age 9 years. Teen boys and girls who did not get vaccinated when they were younger should get it now. HPV vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21. HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:
      • young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26;
      • young adults who are transgender through age 26; and
      • young adults with certain immuno-compromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26.

  2. What are the side affects? Short term and long term

  3. Jennifer Benson
    Dr. Thomas Dovidio March 26, 2017 at 8:48 pm · Reply

    One of the short term side effects I sometimes see is that it can make the patient feel lightheaded for about 15 minutes after it is given. But this tends to resolve relatively quickly.
    Here is a list from the CDC on side effects that may be encountered:

    Q: What are the possible side effects of HPV vaccination?
    A: Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Many people who get HPV vaccine have no side effects at all. Some people report having very mild side effects, like a sore arm. The most common side effects are usually mild. Common side effects of HPV vaccine include:
    • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
    • Fever
    • Headache or feeling tired
    • Nausea
    • Muscle or joint pain
    Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down while getting a shot and then staying that way for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by falls that could occur from fainting.
    On very rare occasions, severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions may occur after vaccination. People with severe allergies to any component of a vaccine should not receive that vaccine.
    HPV vaccine does not cause HPV infection or cancer. HPV vaccine is made from one protein from the virus, and is not infectious, meaning that it cannot cause HPV infection or cancer. Not receiving HPV vaccine at the recommended ages can leave one vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV.
    There are no data that suggest getting HPV vaccine will have an effect on future fertility for women. In fact, getting vaccinated and protecting against HPV-related cancers can help women and families have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
    Not getting HPV vaccine leaves people vulnerable to HPV infection and related cancers. Treatments for cancers and pre-cancers might include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, which might cause pregnancy complications or leave someone unable to have children.

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About the Author

Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson
Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson

Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, health enews contributor, is public affairs director for Advocate Medical Group and Advocate Physician Partners.