What you need to know about the HPV vaccine
Is the HPV vaccine safe? When should your child receive it? These and other common questions answered by pediatrician, Dr. Griffin.
I recently spoke with a woman who is thinking about getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for her twin boys. She had a lot of questions about the safety, effectiveness and benefits of the vaccine.
Her questions were similar to those I get from parents all of the time. They’re important questions to address and I want all parents to feel like they’re making the right decision for their family. Read on for more info about the vaccine.
- Q: Why do you recommend the HPV vaccine?
- The side effects are minimal to none and it’s proven to be very successful in preventing HPV, which causes cervical cancer, and most neck and throat cancers. And it prevents not only cancer, but also precancerous genital warts. In some ways it’s a twofer. You can prevent illness and also lifelong health conditions.
- Q: I’ve heard of a lot of negative side effects about the HPV vaccine. What are they?
- The HPV vaccine isn’t known for many side effects. The most common side effects are warmth, swelling and some soreness at the site where the shot is given. This can happen with any kind of shot.
Sometimes kids faint after they get shots and they could be injured if they fall from fainting. Your clinic will have your child stay seated until they’re sure your child is ok.
We always encourage parents to monitor their kids after they get the vaccine and call us right away if anything seems off.
- Q: Why do boys needs the HPV vaccine?
- The HPV vaccine helps prevent future infection that can lead to certain types of cancers in men.
- Q: The HPV vaccine hasn’t been around very long. How do I know it’s safe and will work for my child?
- The vaccine came out in 2006 for girls and 2010 for boys. Like other vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Drug Administration regularly monitor its safety and how well it’s working. And we have strong evidence to say it’s working. Since the vaccine’s introduction, we’ve seen a 64 percent decline in HPV infections covered by the vaccine in teenage girls.
- Q: The vaccine is given at such a young age, usually between 11-12 years old and in some cases as young as 9. Why so young?
- The vaccine is most effective when given at younger ages when only two doses are required. It is still effective after age 12, but most effective before age 13. When given at an older age, three doses are needed and it can be less effective.
We also want to give the HPV vaccine before kids start engaging in sexual activity. This can be a really tough topic for parents to talk about. As a parent, I get it. We don’t really want to think about it. But I always remind parents this is one way to keep our kids safe that we can control. Adults as old as 26 can also get the vaccine.
- Q: Does the HPV vaccine promote sex at an early age?
- There are studies that show the HPV vaccine isn’t linked to sexual activity at an earlier age. You can find these studies at aap.org and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
- Q: How do I explain to my child what the vaccine is for?
- It depends on their maturity level and what your child will understand. One way I suggest is for parents to tell kids the vaccine prevents cancer and some other types of diseases when they’re older.
- Q: Would you give your own children the vaccine?
- As a parent of four I would absolutely give them the vaccine. I only had one child who was the right age when the vaccine came out and she definitely got it. She knew what it was for and felt as strongly as her mother and I did that it was important to get. My grandkids will also get the vaccine.
- Q: If I want to know more about the HPV vaccine, where can I look?
- Talk to your child’s pediatrician or doctor. You can also find lots of helpful information and resources at cdc.gov and aap.org.
David Griffin, MD
Dr. Griffin earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, medical and master degrees from Stanford and completed his residency in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. He practiced pediatrics at both Park Nicollet and HealthPartners Clinics and now serves as Associate Medical Director with the HealthPartners Medical Group. Every February, Dr. Griffin and his wife accompany a mission trip to Nicaragua with MEDICO, a non-profit medical service organization. There, with a team of physicians, pediatric residents and nurses, they treat special needs children living in small, remote villages.