Both my older kids are fully vaccinated. Aside from their yearly flu shots, I make sure they get all the recommended vaccines. As a mother, I think that vaccines are helpful and can prevent certain conditions, so we are strict when it comes to these appointments.
During our last visit to the doctor, I asked her about the HPV vaccine for my soon-to-be 9-year-old daughter and my 12-year old son. I myself am fully vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus). I know this is indeed a very important shot that my children need to get eventually.
So, what is the HPV vaccine, who needs it, and how does it work?
What is the HPV vaccine and who needs it?
HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women and some other forms of cancer in both women and men. Available data from the CDC indicates that in 2018, there were about 43 million HPV infections, and many of those who contracted the virus were in their late teens or early 20s.
Given such statistics, the HPV vaccine has been included as a routine vaccination for children aged 11 or 12 years although it can be given as early as 9 years of age.
However, it’s essential to note that the HPV vaccine is not a treatment for any HPV infection. It works best when administered before any exposure, which usually occurs through sexual contact. Therefore, getting children vaccinated before they become sexually active will maximize protection.
Should my boy get the HPV vaccine?
One frequent question regarding the HPV vaccine is whether boys need it, too. The main market for this vaccine is adolescent girls considering that HPV is responsible for around 70% of cervical cancer diagnoses globally.
However, males are also exposed to the HPV during sexual intercourse or skin-to-skin contact. The carrier may be asymptomatic, so it’s critical for adolescent males to get the same level of protection that the HPV vaccine gives to young girls.
It’s also important because even if boys aren’t at risk for cancer, they can transmit to their sexual partners and wives in the future. So it will help protect others and reduce the spread of the virus if they are immunized.
What is the HPV vaccine immunization schedule?
According to the WHO, the HPV vaccination schedule depends on the age of the child to be immunized. However, the primary recipients of this vaccine are adolescent girls ages 9-14, and the schedule is as follows:
- For adolescents aged under 15 at the time of the 1st dose, a 2-dose schedule is recommended with a 6-month interval. In case the 2 doses are administered within a period shorter than 5 months, the WHO recommends a 3rd dose to ensure efficacy.
- For adolescents aged 15 and above at the time of the 1st dose, a 3-dose schedule is recommended on a 0-2-6-month schedule.
How long is the HPV vaccine good for?
The efficacy of the vaccine is close to 100%, and research indicates that your child can be protected from the various types of HPV even after 10 years of getting fully vaccinated.
There is also no indication that the protection offered by the HPV vaccine weakens over time. It has been so effective that it can potentially prevent over 90% of the cancers linked to HPV.
Pros and cons of the HPV vaccine
As with any other vaccine, there are benefits and risks, so it’s vital to consult your child’s doctor and read up on the HPV vaccine.
The benefits of HPV vaccines
Aside from giving your child robust protection against cervical cancer, the benefits of having your child fully vaccinated include:
- Protection against cancers affecting the vulva, penis, anus, and oropharynx
- One of the vaccines protects against 90% of the HPV strains causing genital warts (types 6 and 11) in males and females alike.
The risks of HPV vaccines
The risks are always there when it comes to vaccination. Here are the downsides should you decide to have your child vaccinated with the HPV vaccine:
- Mild to moderate side effects can present after administration. These include pain or swelling in the injection site, low-grade fever, headache, joint or muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and even diarrhea. Although these are all normal reactions of your child’s body, it’s important to communicate with your pediatrician if the symptoms persist so that medical attention can be provided immediately.
- The HPV vaccine doesn’t offer protection against all types of cancers.
- It doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections or treat existing HPV infections.
There has been some hesitation about getting vaccinated due to the risk of infertility, but no evidence links the HPV vaccine to male and female infertility, according to a study.
What are the different types of HPV vaccines available for your child?
At present, there are 3 types of HPV vaccines available оn the market:
- 9-valent HPV vaccine (Gardasil® 9, 9vHPV)
- Quadrivalent HPV vaccine (Gardasil®, 4vHPV)
- Bivalent HPV vaccine (Cervarix®, 2vHPV)
The US FDA has approved these vaccines, and all 3 types protect against HPV type 16 and 18, which causes most of the HPV-related cancers in both males and females.
Talk to your child’s doctor about the HPV vaccines available, and he will be able to tell you what the best option is for your kid.
My final thoughts
As parents, we have to make sure that we do the best for our children, which includes giving them protection against various preventable infections. This will not only ensure their good health but also give us the peace of mind we so need, especially during the times when our children’s health is compromised and most vulnerable.