HPV Vaccine: Top 4 FAQ's Answered
With summer winding down and school starting up, our Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency office has been full of adolescents coming in for school and sports physicals. While middle schoolers and teens are always so excited to spend part of their summer at the doctor’s office, they are even more thrilled when they find out they need to get updated on their vaccines.
One vaccine we frequently recommend, but often results in lots of questions is the HPV vaccine. To help clear the air, below are the answers to some of the most common questions about the vaccine.
What is HPV and why do we need to be immunized against it?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a very common virus typically transmitted by sexual contact.
The good thing about HPV is that most people never develop symptoms of infection or health problems. The infection usually goes away within two years. The bad thing about HPV, however, is that some people end up with a chronic infection that leads to cancer and other ailments like genital warts.
HPV infection can lead to many different cancers:
Men and Women
Because many people have no symptoms and the risks develop over years, it is often hard to understand the risks associated with infection. This does not make infection any less dangerous. Being immunized against HPV can prevent most of these cancers from developing.
Who gets HPV and who needs to be immunized?
An estimated 80 million people are currently infected in the U.S.; that’s one out of every four people! Another 14 million become infected every year, and more than 30,000 people will develop cancer from HPV.
The immunization is recommended for everyone, male and female, as young as 11. Males can receive the vaccine up to age 21, and females, up to age 26. The vaccine typically consists of two shots given about six months apart.
My preteen middle schooler isn’t having sex. Why does he/she need it at age 11 or 12?
For the HPV vaccine to be effective, people need to be immunized before they are exposed to the virus. We give the immunization at an early age because pre-teens are usually not yet sexually active.
Many parents wonder if immunizing children might make them more likely to be sexually active, but this isn’t something parents should be worried about. For example, immunizing your children against tetanus does not make them more likely to try to step on rusty nails. The HPV vaccine is given to prevent cancer, nothing more.
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
The HPV vaccine has been used for over 20 years. It has been given more than 100 million times in the U.S. and has a safety/side effect profile similar to all other vaccines.
There are minor side effects such as:
- Mild pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
- Slight fever
- Mild dizziness
All of these symptoms are brief and temporary. They are part of a normal response to being immunized.
HPV is dangerous; the vaccine is not.
As always, if you or your children have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician.