The Key to HPV

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects teens and adults. An estimated 80% of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV can have far-reaching effects on your health, from illnesses like genital warts to multiple types of cancer. The majority of people infected with HPV are in their late teenage years or early 20s.

The state of Kentucky leads the nation in HPV-related cancers, which includes:

  • Cervical cancer in women
  • Anal cancer in men and women
  • Throat cancer in men and women
  • Penile cancer in men

The HPV vaccine is the first vaccine that actively prevents cancer. The vaccine can also help prevent genital warts and other health problems.

Timing of the HPV Vaccine

The tricky part about the HPV vaccine is that it needs to be administered long before the late teen years.

“Timing is everything on the HPV vaccine,” says Dr. Robert Tracy, St. Elizabeth Physicians Family Medicine. “Research shows that the earlier we give the vaccine, the better the immune response. We aim towards giving the vaccine to 11-year-olds during their well visits, as it corresponds with other routine vaccines given at that appointment.”

Parents have expressed discomfort over this vaccine, worrying that their children could view it as an open invitation to become sexually active. However, experts assure parents that isn’t the case.

“The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have cited numerous research studies, such as one published in Pediatrics in 2012, that have shown that getting the HPV vaccine does not make kids more likely to be sexually active, start having sex at a younger age, or engage in riskier sexual behavior,” says Suzi Francis, Ambulatory Care Pharmacist at St. Elizabeth Physicians. “And it’s effective – studies show that it has reduced the rate of HPV-related cancers by 60%.”

The HPV vaccine is also readily accessible, carried at both your child’s primary care physician’s office and local pharmacies. Typically, insurances cover all preventative vaccines without a copay, so there should also be no cost associated with the HPV vaccine.

“It’s not about being sexually active,” says Dr. Tracy. “The message to our children should be ‘this is a vaccine that helps to prevent cancer.’ Teaching your children to make good, safe choices also goes hand-in-hand with this conversation.”

The side effects of the HPV vaccine are minimal and very similar to other childhood vaccines – low fever, redness at the injection site, brief dizziness. The HPV vaccine has been approved by the CDC and available to the public since 2006. More than 100 million doses of the vaccine have been given to patients since it became available.

To schedule your child’s vaccination, contact your primary care physician today! Don’t have a doctor? Find the right provider for you and your family.