The Centers for Disease Control recently updated their vaccination guidelines, and one of the new recommendations was for all pre-teens to receive a 9-valent vaccine to protect against the human papillomavirus or HPV – a sexually transmitted infection responsible for most cases of genital warts and cervical cancers. The CDC joins the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Family Physicians in recommending the HPV vaccine as an effective measure to protect against cancer.
HPV vaccinations have been available for a decade, but this next generation HPV vaccine (known as 9vHPV) deserves a call out.
While current HPV vaccines are very effective, 9vHPV protects against the viruses that cause up to 85% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts, as well as some types of anal, mouth and throat cancers. With the 9vHPV, this generation has the opportunity to substantially reduce their risk of these cancers – some of which are deadly. Here’s what parents need to know about HPV vaccines and 9vHPV.
If the HPV vaccine protects primarily against cervical cancer, why should my son get it?
Most people can’t tell when they are infected with HPV, and boys can transmit the virus to girls. When we vaccinate boys, we protect girls, too. HPV may also cause cancer of the penis in men, and cancers of the anus and oropharynx in both women and men. And don’t forget that HPV can cause genital warts too – which affect both men and women! By vaccinating boys – we protect them and their future partners.
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
The HPV vaccine has been used by millions of people around the world for a decade. The FDA and CDC performed extensive safety testing before they approved the vaccine. As with any vaccine, there can be irritation, pain or swelling around the injection site. There is currently no conclusive evidence that the HPV vaccine causes serious health issues.
My child isn’t sexually active, why should he/she get the vaccine?
The vaccine is most effective if it’s delivered before exposure. Protection against HPV will extend into adulthood – and most individuals are sexually active at some point in their lifetime. HPV is transmitted from person to person through sexual activity – vaginal or anal sex is the typical route of transmission, but HPV can also be spread through oral sex or sex play. If your child has already been sexually active, they should still receive the vaccine
How do I explain to my child that this vaccine doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to have unprotected sex?
If you haven’t had a discussion about STDs with your tween – now might be the right time to share your values and educate your tween about abstinence and/or safe sex. If that’s not a conversation you’re ready to have – you can say that the vaccine is to protect them against future disease. Studies show that there is no increase in sexual activity or risky sexual behaviors after receiving the HPV vaccine.
My child has already gotten all 3 doses of an earlier version of the HPV vaccine – do they need to get vaccinated again?
No. Your child is still protected against most of the cancer-causing strains of HPV.
My child is in the middle of getting their doses of an older version of the HPV vaccine – what do we do?
You can ask for the 9vHPV to finish out the course. It is important to receive all three doses of the HPV vaccine. Even if it has been months or years between the doses – there is no need to restart the series – just pick up where you left off.
If my provider doesn’t have the 9vHPV vaccine, should I wait until they do?
No. Many providers still have some of the older generation doses, and these are still very effective. It’s more important that your child be immunized than wait.
If my daughter receives the HPV vaccine, does she still need a PAP test in the future?
Yes. While the HPV vaccine greatly reduces the risk of HPV-related cervical cancer and genital warts, getting a PAP test is still necessary to screen for any abnormal cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. PAP testing starts at age 21.
The newest guidelines suggest that girls and boys receive a three-dose course of HPV vaccines starting at age 11 – but it can also be given well into young adulthood. Currently the vaccine is approved for young women from as early as age 9 through age 26 and young men from age 9 through age 21. If you have additional questions, your pediatrician or gynecologist is a great source of information. Having your child immunized against HPV is an excellent opportunity to protect them from future disease!