Some Important and Sharp Points about the HPV Vaccine

Parents have been asking me some pointed questions about the vaccine for preventing genital warts and cervical cancer.  So this week, let me take my best shot and provide some information on this new vaccine.

The new vaccine protects against getting infected with, or spreading strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts and may lead to cervical cancer in women and cancer of the genitals in men.  The virus often does not cause damage immediately, so people may not even know they have it and can pass it on to others.  It is estimated that 50% of sexually active women in this country will get HPV at some point in their lives if they do not get vaccinated.

The new vaccine against HPV works best when given to someone who has not yet been infected.  That is why, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is being given ideally as a series of three shots over a six month period to girls and boys 11-12 years old, who hopefully have not yet become sexually active.  The vaccine can be given up into the early 20’s to men and women if they have not yet gotten this vaccine.

So what are the complications of this vaccine?  Some parents believe we are giving live virus to their older child, but that is not true.  The vaccine contains bits and pieces of killed virus and thus cannot result in the complications of live virus – such as genital warts and cervical cancer.  The only side effects of this vaccine that we are aware of is some soreness at the injection site, or feeling a bit faint after getting it – and even these are rare. 

Once your son or daughter gets this vaccine, it is important to remember that it only protects against one type of sexually transmitted disease.  So, make sure your children know that they will still need to use appropriate protection if and when they do become sexually active.  The vaccine also does not protect against all types of HPV, just the most common strains, so pap smears to monitor for cervical cancer will still be needed as your daughter gets older. If you have further questions, talk to your older child or teen’s doctor who can tell you more about the benefits of your child getting this vaccine. 

Hopefully tips like this will wart off – or should I say ward off – any misinformation you may have when it comes to making sure your teenage daughter gets this important vaccine.

 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids