HPV Vaccine: Myth vs. Fact
By Jacob Edwards, MD, Pediatrician - Dothan Pediatric Clinic
Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, is a common virus of which there are approximately 100 different strands. According to the CDC, almost everyone will have at least one virus type during their lifetime; an estimated nearly 80-million Americans are currently infected; and there are more than 30,000 new HPV-associated cancer cases each year.
Known for causing approximately 90% of cervical cancers, HPV is believed responsible for over 90% of anal cancer, 70% of vaginal cancer, and more than 60% of penile cancer. Recent studies show it may be linked to 70% of oropharynx cancer, and it is associated with most cases of genital warts.
HPV is primarily spread via intimate/sexual contact or skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. Treatments typically focus on the health problems caused by HPV infections. For most, the immune system fights off the virus without us knowing we are infected and without medical assistance.
Routine HPV vaccinations start at age 11. Children receive two shots if both are given before age 15 or three shots if started/completed after age 15.
Parents, I get it. Thinking about anything sex-related when your child is only 9, 11, or 14 is difficult, but the vaccine responds best when given during pre or young adolescence, before exposure.
There are many myths with the HPV vaccine.
Myth: HPV is not a necessary vaccine.
Fact: HPV vaccination may not be required for school entry, but it is necessary. Given its high prevalence, some HPV infections will not clear. Some will lead to abnormal pap smears. Some will lead to cancer.
Myth: The vaccine is too new, and I hear it is not safe.
Fact: The HPV vaccine was approved in 2006. It is 15 YEARS older than most individuals who get it. The vaccine is very safe. The most common side effects are pain and swelling or redness at the injection site. Some report dizziness or fainting after the vaccine. This is common in pre-teens, teens, and young adults when getting any shot. Many times, this is a stress-related response and not due to the vaccine itself.
Myth: Getting the HPV vaccine encourages adolescents to be sexually active.
Fact: There is no evidence linking the HPV vaccine to sexual activity. Consider presenting the topic of getting the vaccine to begin age-appropriate conversations about sexual health.
Try to remember this vaccine is to prevent cancer. Ask yourself, do your concerns about the vaccine outweigh your concerns about cancer?
If you have questions or concerns about the HPV vaccine, discuss with your local pediatrician, gynecologist, or family physician.