Should Preteens Get the HPV Vaccine?

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What is the HPV Vaccine?

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The human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, is actually a group of over 100 different viruses. About 20 million Americans are infected each year and though it often goes away on its own, the more violent strains can lead to serious illnesses. More than 30 strains are known to cause cervical, mouth and throat cancer, and over 70% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV. Transferred through skin-to-skin contact, as well as through vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected partner, symptoms can take months or years to appear. Sometimes, even when a person is infected, symptoms like genital warts don’t appear at all. As condoms only offer limited protection, and there is currently no cure, vaccines such as Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix are recommended to prevent new infections.

Gardasil was approved by the FDA for use in girls in 2006 and boys in 2011, while Gardasil 9 was approved in December 2014; Cervarix was approved for both genders in 2009. Vaccinations can be administered to those between the ages of nine and 26. Regardless of the age a person is vaccinated, the second and third injections are usually given within two to six months after the preceding dose, and three doses are needed for full efficacy. Though all three vaccines work in much the same way, Cervarix includes a chemical that may allow it to have longer protection than either version of Gardasil.

While the vaccine may sound like a no-brainer, there’s actually a lot of debate about if, and when, to administer it. It’s smart to talk with your child’s healthcare provider to get more information on the HPV Vaccine. And before you to decide to have your child vaccinated, educate yourself on the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine.

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Pros

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Gardasil and Cervarix protect against four strains of the virus, while Gardasil 9 adds protection against an additional five; all include the most common strains that are known to cause cancer and genital warts.

The CDC recommends boys and girls receive the vaccine between ages 11 and 12, as it works best before they become sexually active. Though many parents hope their kids won’t engage in risky sexual behavior, one-third of all youth have had sex by age 16. According to a 2005 survey at the CDC, 34% of sexually active students said they didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex, putting them at a high risk for HPV. Though abstinence may be the goal, HPV can still be transmitted through non-penetrative sex, so unless both partners have never engaged in any sexual activity, either may become infected. The vaccine effectively eliminates the risk of becoming infected with the most violent strains of the virus, regardless of sexual activity.

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Cons

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The biggest controversy regarding the HPV vaccine—and the reason one third of doctors aren’t recommending it to preteens—is a concern among parents that it will lead to promiscuity. Some parents think that the vaccine encourages a belief that since it prevents STD’s, it will lead to more unprotected sex. Discussing sexual health with children at such a young age is also a concern for these parents. However, with half of high school students already sexually active, education about the risks of engaging in sexual activity is certainly advisable.

There are a few possible side effects to the vaccines, the most common of which include pain, swelling and redness at the site of injection. Fainting may occur, so it’s recommended that children be supervised for 15 minutes after receiving the injection. An allergic reaction is possible, so contact your doctor immediately if you notice difficulty breathing, hives or a rash. It is important to report any concerning physical symptoms, even months after receiving the vaccines.

As there are no long-term studies to show how long the vaccines are effective, a booster shot down the road will be likely. Cervarix is known to be effective for at least four and a half years.

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For More Information

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If you have any questions or concerns regarding HPV, the vaccines, or your (or your child’s) sexual health, ask your doctor. He or she should be able to discuss the benefits of receiving the vaccine, as well as potential risks. A lot of information can be gained from medical sites, many of which present all sides of the debate. Do your research, ask questions and learn the facts. Most importantly, know that understanding HPV (as well as other STI’s) can greatly reduce the risk of infection.

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