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8/21/14blog post

does my preteen REALLY need the HPV vaccine?

By: Dr. Patricia Abboud

As the school year starts, many of us are taking our children to the pediatrician for sports physicals, annual exams, and vaccinations. As a pediatrician, I am very supportive and a believer of ALL vaccinations. My teenage son is getting ready to start high school and I had the discussion with his pediatrician about the HPV vaccine.

Like many of you, I wondered, does he really need it? This vaccine protects against cervical cancers, is he at risk? He’s not participating in sexual activity (yet)? What are the risks of NOT getting it? What are the risks OF getting it?

Below are some important statistics from the CDC:

  • Human Papilllomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States
  • There are more than 40 different strains of HPV that specifically affect the genital area.
  • HPV vaccine prevents infection with the most harmful kinds of human papillomavirus (HPV) most likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer.
  • Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it and may give HPV to a partner without knowing it.
  • People get HPV from another person during sexual activity. Some HPV infections that result in oral or upper respiratory lesions are contracted through oral sex.
  • About 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the United States have genital warts at any given time.

To answer your (and my) questions…

1. Why does my 11-12 year old need this vaccine, he/she is not sexually active?

  • Early vaccination allows the body time to build up the immune system so that the vaccine can be protective by the time the adolescent is sexually active. In preteens the immune response is stronger than in older teens (allowing the immune system and response to the infection to be stronger)

2. Why should my SON get the vaccine?

  • Gardasil is the only HPV vaccine approved for boys. This vaccine will help prevent cancers of the throat, anus, and penis as well as prevent genital warts. Boys that are vaccinated are less likely to spread HPV to their future partners.

3. Does this vaccine work well and how long does it last?

  • Studies show that the vaccine has provided close to 100 percent protection against precancerous lesions and for HPV4, genital warts. Since the introduction of the vaccine in 2006, there has been a 56 percent reduction in HPV infections among teen girls in the US, even with very low HPV vaccination rates. Last year, only 57 percent of girls and 35 oercent of boys aged between 13 and 17 years got one or more doses of HPV vaccine; a distressingly LOW statistic.
  • Studies indicate that fewer teens are getting genital warts.
  • The vaccine lasts in the body for at least 10 years without becoming less effective.

4. How do we know that HPV vaccine is safe?

  • All vaccines and drugs go through extensive testing before approval by the FDA. Once approved and in use, these medications are monitored for adverse reactions in the population as well. The CDC is closely involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the safety of all vaccines.

One study indicated parents’ ‘lack of information’ as the reason for NOT vaccinating their children. I hope this blog provided you with some answers and important information. As always, discuss with your pediatrician the indications and any safety questions you have. Remember you are your child’s BEST advocate.

Dr. Abboud is a pediatric intensivist at Dayton Children’s and the mother of three kids. As part of the award-winning “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. Abboud blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. Abboud.