Elon 336.538.2416   |   Mebane 919.563.2500 Office Hours

The HPV Vaccine: Facts to Consider for Your Preteen or Teen

Young girl receiving vaccination in hospital: Blog: The HPV Vaccine: Facts to Consider for Your Preteen or Teen

Are you considering having your child vaccinated against HPV? If you are, you might have some questions about what the vaccine does and why it is important for teens and pre-teens to get it. You may have concerns about giving your child a vaccination for an STD, so let’s look at some key facts and maybe those concerns will be put to rest.

What is HPV? 

HPV stands for “human papilloma virus.” It is a sexually transmitted disease that is extremely common in the US. So common, in fact, that almost all men and women will get at least one type of HPV during their lives. It is estimated that 14 million Americans are infected with HPV every year.

HPV infections can go away on their own within a year or two, but certain HPV infections will last longer and can lead to genital warts and certain types of cancer. It is most commonly discussed as a cause for cervical cancer, but that is not the only place cancers can occur. HPV related cancer can occur in the following areas:

  • The anus in both women in men
  • The back of the throat, including the tonsils and tongue, also in both sexes
  • The penis in men
  • The cervix, vagina, and vulva in women

The CDC reports that each year, HPV causes 33,700 cases of cancer in American men and women.

HPV is spread via intimate skin to skin contact. Intimate contact can include vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The virus can still be spread when condoms are used during intercourse. Using condoms during sexual intercourse will reduce the chances of HPV transmission, but this method is not adequate for reliable prevention, because as noted before, it is spread by intimate skin to skin contact. That contact does not have to be genital to genital, and condoms cover a limited amount of skin.

Because of the dangers of HPV and how other methods are unreliable in preventing its transmission, doctors have developed a vaccine to protect individuals against the virus.

The HPV Vaccine 

The HPV vaccine was approved for use in preventing cancer by the FDA in 2006.  The vaccine protects against types of HPV commonly associated with the cancers discussed early, as well as genital warts.

Since it was made available to the public, studies have shown it has been effective in preventing HPV infection and therefore has prevented HPV related cancers as well.

The HPV vaccine is generally safe, but certain individuals should not be given the vaccine. These people include:

  • Individuals who have had a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine
  • Anyone who is severely allergic to any of the vaccine’s components
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are moderately or severely ill when they are scheduled to receive the vaccine. The vaccine should be put on hold until recovery.

With that being said, it is recommended that pre-teens and teens without these conditions receive the vaccine to prevent future cancer. Initially, adults over 26 were not eligible for the vaccine, but recently the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 has been approved for use in adults up to age 45 as well.

Studies have shown that the vaccine has maintained effectiveness and improved herd immunity against HPV in the years since its release in 2006.

The vaccine is administered in series. For patients younger than 15, the series is two doses. For those over 15, the series has three doses.

When Should My Teen or Preteen Get the HPV Vaccine?

Doctors recommend that children begin the HPV vaccination series as a preteen or early in the teen years. While the vaccination can be given to children as young as nine, the ideal age for a child to be vaccinated is from 11 to 12. The vaccine is usually given in two doses if the series is started from ages 11 to 12 and then in three doses in the teenage years. More recently, a two-dose series has also been approved for teens aged 13 and 14. 

In the two-dose series, the second dose is given within six to twelve months after the initial dose. The three-dose series is administered over a six-month period.

Why Is it Recommended at a Young Age?

It is recommended that the vaccine be given at a young age because pre-teens will produce more antibodies after vaccination than older teens and adults. Therefore, it takes fewer doses for preteens to be protected than their older counterparts.

Because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, for many parents, discussing the HPV vaccine for children as young as 11 can be disconcerting. A child that age should not be sexually active and remain inactive for the next several years (or longer), so it can seem premature to address the issue now. However, as the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, it is precisely because of this lack of sexual activity that this is the recommended age to have your child vaccinated.

Up to 80% of people test positive for HPV within two to three years of becoming sexually active. So, it is critical that the vaccination series is completed before any sexual activity occurs. 

Two other compelling statistics that show the importance of vaccinating preteens:

  • 75% of all new HPV cases are found in people between the ages of 15 and 34
  • The CDC estimates that up to 64% of teen and preteen girls may be infected with HPV.

It should be noted that there is also no correlation between getting the HPV vaccine and engaging in sexual activity earlier than other teens. So, if you are worried that this vaccination will give your child the impression that it is appropriate or safe to have sex earlier, this is not an issue.

What if My Child is Male?

Because the HPV vaccine is mostly discussed in regards to preventing cervical cancer, you may wonder why a boy or young man might benefit from the vaccine. There are a few reasons why your son should be vaccinated against HPV.

  • Cervical cancer is not the only cancer caused by HPV. In fact, the most common cancer HPV causes are mouth and throat cancer. These types of cancer are more prevalent in males than in females.
  • HPV can also cause genital warts and cancers of the penis and anus.
  • If your son contracts HPV, he may not ever exhibit symptoms or develop cancer. However, he could pass it on to any woman he has a relationship with later in life. By getting the HPV vaccine, he can still play a part in preventing cervical cancer in women.

 Overall, the benefits of teens and preteens getting the HPV vaccines outweigh the concerns for most people. If you have further questions or are ready to start the process of getting your child vaccinated, call Kernodle Pediatrics at 336-538-2416 for our Elon office or at 919-563-2500. 

Help us serve you better and tell us how we're doing.