The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects roughly eight in 10 people during their lifetime. While most infections go away on their own, they can sometimes cause serious health problems, including cancer.
Research has shown the HPV vaccine is safe and effective in preventing HPV infections among those who have received the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that out of the 32,500 cases of cancer caused by HPV every year, the HPV vaccine could prevent 30,000 of those cancers from ever developing. The vaccine prevents against cervical cancer in women, genital warts in both men and women, as well as oral cancers.
"The HPV vaccine has the potential to reduce pain, anxiety, suffering and even deaths that happen from these types of cancers," says Ray Tsai, M.D., Senior Vice President for Dallas Market Operations at Children's Health℠.
Below, Dr. Tsai addresses who should get this vaccine, if it is safe and other concerns parents might have.
Who should get the HPV vaccine and at what age?
The CDC recommends that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine at age 11. The vaccine is administered in two doses. The second booster shot is given six months after the initial vaccine.
"The 11-year check-up is a convenient time to get the HPV vaccine," says Dr. Tsai. "Children also receive the meningitis vaccine and boosters for tetanus and whooping cough."
Dr. Tsai emphasizes the importance of boys getting the vaccine, as well as girls. "The HPV vaccine helps prevent cancers that affect both genders," he says. "We need to offer boys and girls the same level of protection."
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
"We are 10 years into administering the HPV vaccine and it has a strong safety record," Dr. Tsai states. "The HPV vaccine does not have any significant side effects."
According to the CDC, possible side effects of the HPV vaccine include:
- Pain, redness or swelling at the injection sites
- Headache or feeling fatigue
- Muscle or joint pain
What else should parents know about the HPV vaccine?
"Occasionally, parents want to know why their young child should receive a vaccine for an infection that is sexually transmitted," says Dr. Tsai. "There has been no evidence that getting this vaccine encourages sexual activity. We want to make sure children are protected from a potentially serious infection and health issues before they are even at risk of contracting HPV."
At age 11, children aren't typically aware of HPV or how it's contracted. "This vaccine has completely changed the landscape for cervical cancers and other types of cancer. The effectiveness and safety record of the HPV vaccine make it an important one and parents should schedule this vaccine when scheduling other routine vaccines," Dr. Tsai says.
If you have any questions about the HPV vaccine, Dr. Tsai encourages you to talk to your child's pediatrician. Learn more about the importance of vaccines and find a recommended immunization schedule for your child.
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