Did you know that every year in the United States there’s an estimated 14 million people newly infected with HPV (Source: CDC)? About 50 percent of them are in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, often has no visible signs or symptoms. This means your child could get the virus without even knowing it … and then pass it on.
We sat down with Dr. Megan Woodward of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Alliance to discuss some of the most commonly asked questions about the HPV vaccine. She shared insights on how the HPV vaccine can protect teens and young adults against several strains of this potentially deadly virus.
For starters, what exactly is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., and it affects the cells in the lining of the genital area, mouth and throat. About 90 percent of the time, the immune system is able to fully clear the infection … however, when it doesn’t, the affected cells undergo changes that can lead to pre-cancer and cancerous lesions.
Who should consider getting the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine is given to both males and females. It is not a live vaccine, so it doesn’t cause infection, and it can’t worsen a pre-existing infection. We want to ensure that there is full immunity to the virus prior to any exposure. Once a person is infected with the virus, there is no cure.
At what age should a child get vaccinated?
Starting at age 11, your child can receive the HPV vaccination. It’s important to start at that age because the immune system is primed and ready to best respond to the vaccine.
How is the vaccine administered, and how often?
The vaccine is given as an injection, like most vaccines are. If administered to a child under the age of 15, he or she will only need two injections of the vaccine, separated by six months. If older than 15, the vaccine will be administered three times because the immune system isn’t quite as robust at that age.
Are there any side effects?
The side effects of the vaccine are very mild. They can include injection site pain, swelling and redness, headaches, or a mild fever. This vaccine was studied to be given along with other age-appropriate vaccines such as TDAP and the meningococcal vaccine, and is found to be very safe when given with the other vaccines.
Why should my child receive the vaccine now if I know they aren’t engaging in sexual activity?
It is important to know that to obtain the infection, it doesn’t require sexual intercourse. But any form of contact with the genital area with a person who is infected can lead to infection. Despite concerns from parents, research shows that the vaccination does not lead to earlier initiation of sexual activity.
While your child may not be at risk now, the risk for getting HPV does increase as they get older.
Annual well checks are a good opportunity to talk to your child’s doctor or health care professional to learn more about how you can protect them from certain HPV-related cancers and diseases.
Akron Children’s Hospital has returned to its pre-coronavirus operations at each facility. To learn about the steps we’re taking to keep you and your family safe during the pandemic, click here.
Schedule a wellness checkup for your child once a year, every year, by calling our Appointment Center at 330-543-2778 or schedule online.