HPV Vaccine: Prevention Is the Best Medicine

By: Renown Wellness Team

July 12, 2022

boy with blonde hair smiling at camera showing bandaid on his upper arm from vaccine

With more than 3 million cases in the United States each year, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease and can lead to the risk of several cancer diagnoses. Fortunately, a vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers when given at the recommended ages. We talked to Renown Pediatrician Vanessa Slots, M.D., to learn more about HPV and the importance of getting your child fully vaccinated.  

What is HPV?  

Talking about sexually transmitted infections can be uncomfortable, but learning how HPV is spread is important for prevention. HPVs are spread via skin-to-skin contact. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are low/medium-risk HPVs that can cause warts and cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells on the cervix), and there are high-risk HPVs that can cause various cancers. HPV is perhaps most known for causing cervical cancer. Other cancers related to HPV are anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal cancers. In fact, men are four times more likely than women to suffer from HPV-associated oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will be exposed at some point in their lifetime, with around half of infections being a high-risk virus. 

Benefits of the HPV vaccine  

Immunizations are safe and effective and have successfully reduced the transmission of many deadly diseases. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states the HPV vaccine protects against infections that can lead to HPV related cancers and abnormal cells that can lead to cancer (precancers), as well as genital warts.  

The recommended HPV vaccine schedule  

The American Cancer Society states that the HPV vaccine is most effective when two doses are given to girls and boys between the ages of 9 to 12. There should be at least 6 months between the first and second dose. “You might be asking why your child needs to get the HPV vaccine at this young age when they are not sexually active,” says Dr. Slots. “Research shows that people have a better immune response to the vaccine when younger than in their late teens and early 20s.”  

For teens and young adults ages 13 through 26 who have not been vaccinated, getting the HPV vaccine is still highly effective in preventing cancers and genital warts.  

CDC recommended HPV vaccination suggestions: 

  • 2-dose schedule for people who get their first dose before their 15th birthday. 
  • 3-dose schedule for people who get their first dose on or after their 15th birthday.  

“By following the recommended HPV vaccine schedule and getting your child the correct number of doses, this will ensure they have adequate protection against HPV associated diseases including cancer,” says Dr. Slots.  

Is the HPV vaccination safe?

HPV vaccines are continually monitored for their safety and effectiveness. Since the release of the vaccination in 2006, healthcare providers have delivered millions of doses across the globe, and no serious safety concerns have been found. All vaccines used in the U.S. are required to go through extensive safety testing before they are released to use.  

Are there side effects? 

The most common reaction is a sore arm at the injection site, along with swelling and redness. Other side effects include dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. Fainting is a common reaction to adolescent vaccines. To reduce the risk of injury, an adolescent should sit or lie down for 15 minutes after administering the vaccine.  

How long does it last?  

HPV vaccines are highly effective in producing a high immune response. According to multiple research studies, protection from the HPV vaccine is long-lasting and lasts through the most critical exposure time. Therefore, at this time, a booster is not recommended.  

Are there programs for free or reduced-cost HPV vaccination?  

Yes. The Affordable Care Act requires all new private insurance plans to cover HPV vaccines if the patient is within the recommended age group of 9-26 years of age and an in-network provider administers the vaccine. Public insurance plans, such as Medicaid, will also cover the HPV vaccine within the recommended age group. We recommend calling your insurance company to confirm the vaccine is covered.  

In some circumstances, the vaccine may not be covered under insurance. In that case, a child may be covered through Vaccines for Children, a program that pays for vaccines for children younger than age 19 who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured or underinsured, or American Indian or Alaskan Native throughout the state of Nevada.  

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