If you were told that a vaccine might help prevent your child from suffering from cancer in the future, wouldn’t you request it at the next healthcare visit? The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps protect against several different types of cancer caused by HPV.
There are up to 100 different strains of this virus. In some cases, HPV may never cause symptoms or problems. However, it can cause cervical cancer in females, penile cancer in males and mouth and throat cancer in girls and boys. There is no way to know which people with HPV will develop cancer or other health problems and who will remain unaffected. The best thing to help protect your child against HPV is vaccination during adolescence.
The particular strain of HPV viruses that causes cancer is passed by sexual contact with someone who has the virus. You may ask whether a child who is not sexually active really needs the vaccine. Yes, because it is more effective when given before any opportunity for exposure. The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners agrees with the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that all children between ages 11 and 12 receive the vaccine to protect them from HPV. A child older than 12 can still be vaccinated. The vaccine can be given until age 26 to be effective.
You may think the HPV vaccine is for girls only. It is also for boys. Initially, the vaccine was approved for girls to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. A couple of years later the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for boys, too, because the virus has been associated with cancer of the anus, penis and mouth and throat.
Who shouldn’t get the vaccine? If your child has a severe allergy to yeast or latex, you should discuss which HPV vaccines may be right with your provider. Adolescents who are pregnant should wait until they have given birth. Other than these exceptions, the HPV vaccine is for everyone starting at age 11. If you are concerned about cost, talk to your provider and/or insurance company about coverage and reimbursement.
You may be concerned about safety and possible side effects. The vaccine has been studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and approved by the FDA because it has been proven to be safe and effective. According to the CDC, no serious safety concerns have been associated with the vaccine, and it is continuously monitored for any safety problems. The most common side effects are slight redness and soreness in the arm where the shot was administered for a day or two, and possibly a headache.
Many kids feel nervous about getting any shot. The CDC recommends sitting or lying down for 15 minutes after getting the shot to prevent fainting, a common preteen situation unrelated to the vaccine.
Based on the latest research, the CDC confirmed in October 2016 that children who receive their first HPV vaccine before age 15 will only need one additional dose to protect against cancers caused by the virus, while anyone older than 15 will need a three-dose series of the vaccine. Each dose of the vaccine can be given within six months of one another and at the same time as your child’s other routine vaccines. If your provider doesn’t discuss the vaccine during the annual well visit starting at age 11, ask to have it added your child’s vaccination series.
For further information to help you make an informed decision, visit: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/;
Ann Lambert, MSN, CPNP-BC, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Auburn University School of Nursing and works as a Primary Care PNP with Pediatric Associates in Alexander City, AL.