A Blog From Your Kaiser Permanente Physicians

HPV Virus

Why Your Child Needs the HPV Vaccine

I saw an 11-year-old girl recently for her well-child checkup. I encouraged her mom to give the 3 standard vaccines recommended for kids this age. These vaccines protect against HPV, meningitis and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Her mom was hesitating about having her daughter get the HPV vaccine. “Why does she need it so early?”

After listening to a bit of the discussion based on the information below, the girl chimed in with, “It’s not about sex mom…It’s about cancer!”

Yes, that’s right. And you’re hired kid!

Let’s look at the facts about the HPV vaccine:

The vaccine is safe and it works! We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers of HPV infections and cancers since the vaccine has been in use. We’ve also seen no evidence that cancer protection from the vaccine decreases over time.

HPV infections are common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “Nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV. About 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected each year.” The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact, often through sex with an infected person.

Sometimes HPV infection leads to cancer. Each year HPV causes 35,000 cases of cancer in men and women in the U.S. The cancers are of the mouth and throat, cervix, vagina, penis and anus. The HPV vaccine is given to prevent these cancers. It’s recommended that all boys and girls get 2 doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11 or 12. HPV vaccination can be started at age 9. For the HPV vaccine to be most effective, the series should be given prior to exposure to HPV.

Why get the vaccine so early if HPV is spread through sex? There are a few important answers to that good question:

  • The vaccine works better the earlier it’s given. It can be given starting at age nine. And if a child starts the vaccine series before age 15, they only need 2 doses. After 15, it no longer works as well so kids need to have 3 doses.
  • HPV is not always spread through sexual activity. When we test for HPV in kids ages11 to 12 who haven’t had intercourse, it’s found at least 5 to 10% of the time.
  • Vaccination needs to occur before exposure to the virus. And parents may not know when kids are at risk for infection. It’s not too early to vaccinate – but it could be too late. Don’t wait!

Is the vaccine safe? Yes! I have no doubt about that – and gave the vaccine to my 2 boys and my girl. I want all children to be protected as well as my own! Over 100 million doses have been given over more than 10 years with a great safety record.

All of these facts? They’re why the girl’s mom chose to protect her smart daughter with the vaccine; HPV vaccination is cancer prevention.

Resources for Parents

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

American Academy of Pediatrics:
Vaccinating Your Preteen: Addressing Common Concerns

My Doctor Online:
HPV and Genital Warts

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