The HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Vaccine: Fact versus fiction

By: The Tiger Clinic

Nowadays there is an overload of information regarding vaccinations, particularly regarding the HPV vaccine. Sometimes information is based on opinion rather than facts and scientifically-based evidence. Disseminating all the information about the HPV vaccine can help parents to make an educated decision for their child’s health.

What is the HPV vaccine?

About 79 million Americans have HPV, making it the the most common sexually transmitted disease. HPV infection is most common in late teens and early 20s. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some point in their life especially if they do not get the HPV vaccine. HPV is only spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact. There are about 40 different types of HPV, but 13 types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and one type can cause cancers of vulva, vagina, penis, anus, head, neck, and throat cancers. The HPV vaccine protects against the 9 most common cancer-causing types. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the cancer-causing types. The vaccine is ultimately a cancer prevention measure.  The HPV vaccine prevents approximately 90% of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers.

Who is eligible to receive the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls aged 11 to 12 years. The reason the vaccine is recommended at this age is because when you are younger your body builds a better immune response. This means your child’s body can better protect itself against HPV, long before there is a possibility of exposure. If HPV exposure occurs before the vaccine series is complete, the body is not be completely protected from the 9 types of HPV.

Why do we recommend your child receive the HPV vaccine?

HPV cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is more advanced making it difficult to treat. This is why women receive regular cervical cancer screen. However, there is no screening for men or other cancers caused by HPV, making the vaccine the only prevention opportunity available.

When should your child complete the HPV vaccine?

If your child is younger than 15 years of age, he or she will need 2 vaccines at least 6 months apart to be fully vaccinated. If your child is 15 years or older, he or she will need 3 vaccines to be fully vaccinated. After the first vaccine, 2 months later you receive the second, then 4 months after the second you receive the final dose.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the vaccine continues to be studied regularly by the CDC and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). No serious safety concerns have been confirmed in large safety studies that have been done since the HPV vaccine became available in 2006. The most common side effects are mild and similar to all vaccines. These include: redness, pain, swelling at the injection site, nausea, fever, and dizziness. As with any shot or medical procedure, fainting may occur. Sitting or laying down for 15 minutes after the vaccine helps to reduce risk of injury if fainting does occur. The HPV vaccine is made from a non-infectious and non-cancer causing protein. There is no evidence to support that the vaccine causes fertility problems. However, a persistent high-risk HPV infection in a woman can cause cervical cancer and treatment of cervical cancer could leave a woman unable to have children. Treatment for cervical pre-cancer can cause preterm delivery or other problems.

If you are interested in more information regarding the HPV vaccine please check out the CDC website or speak with your healthcare provider.