As a mom, pediatrician, and parenting blogger, I get to connect with and learn from parents in my own community of Seattle and parents across the country. A question that comes up a lot -- especially around the back-to-school season -- is about HPV vaccine. Not all schools require children to get the vaccine before entering, so some parents wonder: Should my child get HPV vaccine? If so, when?
Parenting can be full of complicated choices where the "right" decision is dependent on many factors. HPV vaccination, I tell my patients' parents and my friends, is not one of those complicated choices. All boys and girls should get the HPV vaccine series at age 11 or 12 and there is no reason to wait. This is a no-brainer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year, over 30,000 men and women in the United States are affected by HPV cancers. HPV vaccine protects boys and girls from getting the HPV types that cause the majority of these cancers--in fact, HPV vaccine could prevent over 90 percent of these cancers from ever developing. And the results are in: HPV vaccine works. Since the vaccine was first introduced in the U.S. in 2006, HPV infections in teen girls have dropped by 64 percent. This percent will continue to grow as more children get their HPV shots on time.
Vaccines in the teen years really start when children enter middle school (at age 11). Good news, research shows the earlier the HPV vaccine is given, the better the immune response and protection against HPV during teen and young adult years. No safety benefit in waiting to be immunized -- the side effects are the same from the injection (I hear most about pain at the injection site!) but waiting allows more time when a teen could be exposed to HPV. Research has shown that the immune response is better when the immunization is given to younger girls and boys (age 11 for example, over age 16 years).
For your child to get the best protection from HPV vaccine, he or she needs to get all shots in the series well before they are exposed to the HPV virus. CDC recommends boys and girls age 11 or 12 get Tdap, meningococcal, and HPV vaccines, and children can safely get them at the same appointment. Take advantage of any doctor's visit -- wellness checkups, sick visits, sports physicals, etc. -- to ask what shots your preteens and teens need. If your teen hasn't gotten all shots in the HPV vaccine series, schedule a doctor's visit for them to do so as soon as possible. And don't worry, even if it has been a year since your child had their first HPV dose, schedule an appointment to get the booster. You don't have to re-start the series.
Protect your children from HPV cancers in the future by having them complete the HPV vaccine series at age 11 or 12. It's a decision you'll be glad you made.