The HPV vaccine has been making headlines for the last few years as a way to help prevent cervical cancer. A vaccine that can prevent cancer is certainly newsworthy! However, lately the vaccine has come under fire for a number of reasons.
What is HPV?
HPV, or genital human papillomavirus, is the name used to describe several common sexually transmitted infection caused by a family of viruses. Most people never know they have the virus, but it can cause symptoms and can be transmitted through sexual contact whether or not the infected partner is symptomatic. It is possible to be infected with more than one form of the virus and to be infected for years without symptoms, spreading the virus the entire time. HPV can also lead to cervical cancer in a small number of infected women. While HPV can lead to several forms of cancer, the virus is present in almost all cervical cancer cases. Therefore, the vaccine can effectively prevent cervical cancer in most women. However, it is important to note that the occurrence of cancer in those with HPV is extremely low overall.
Who should get the vaccine?
Females between the ages of 11 and 26 should be vaccinated against the HPV virus, although it can be administered to girls as young as 9. The vaccine should ideally be given to those who have not yet become sexually active, although it can be given to sexually active females who have tested negative for the virus. It is a course of three vaccines that may require boosters in the future. The vaccine may also be given to males between the ages of 9 and 26, although it is not routinely recommended for them.
Why are parents concerned?
There are two primary areas of concern regarding the HPV vaccine. First, the parents of girls as young as nine are being asked to give their daughters a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus. Many parents feel this is unnecessary, as their children are not yet sexually active. However, the goal is to vaccinate children before they become sexually active to ensure the vaccine is able to protect them from the virus and cervical cancer in the future. Next, some school districts are beginning to include the HPV vaccine in their series of required vaccinations. This is upsetting many parents who feel the vaccinations are unnecessary for their child or for the overall health of the student population. Finally, there has been anecdotal evidence that the vaccine is not safe. While there is a risk of adverse reaction to any medication, all clinical studies have shown the vaccine to be safe.
Ultimately, whether or not the vaccine is administered to a child is up to the parent. If a parent asks you about the HPV vaccine be sure to give them the most up to date scientific research and allow them to make the decision based on the facts rather than fear.