Prevent HPV Infections with Early Vaccination

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*Updated August 2020

Don’t leave your child vulnerable to certain cancers.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a fairly common virus type; nearly 80 million people—about one in four—are currently infected in the United States.

In truth, HPV is a group of more than 150 similar viruses, some of which can cause a variety of cancers. In women, HPV infections can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar HPV cancers. Men may get penile HPV cancer. Both men and women are at risk for HPV-caused cancers of the mouth, throat, anus and rectum.

Fortunately, we have effective vaccines that can prevent the deadliest HPV infections. Every year in the United States, HPV causes 30,700 cancers in men and women. Vaccination can prevent most of the cancers (about 28,000) from occurring. Since the first HPV vaccine was given in the United States in 2006, there has been a 64 percent reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls.

Dr. Lawrence B. Friedman, an adolescent medicine expert for the University of Miami Health System, believes passionately in the need to vaccinate for HPV. “Many people don’t know, for example, that these viruses cause almost 100 percent of all cervical cancers, and 91 percent of anal cancers,” he explains. “Vaccination is so simple; parents can’t protect their children from everything, but this is something that they can easily do.”

Recent HPV developments


The latest news about HPV seems to indicate that this message is hitting home with a lot of individuals and communities. According to a 2019 report from the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, four regions in the United States required HPV vaccination for entry into school (Washington, D.C., Virginia, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico), but at least 42 other jurisdictions have introduced legislation to require it. They also note that the majority of parents support these measures. What’s more, areas that have added this requirement have seen an increase in HPV vaccine use: In 2019, Washington, D.C.’s vaccination rate was 78 percent, and Virginia’s was 59 percent, while the entire United States had a rate of just 49 percent.

As of July 2020, the American Cancer Society has also updated their HPV testing recommendations, showing an emphasis on getting HPV complications such as cervical cancer under control. Their newest recommendations involve getting a primary HPV test every 5 years, starting at age 25 and continuing through the age of 65. Other acceptable screening methods include getting a pap test alone every 3 years, or a combination HPV test and pap test every 5 years. If an individual age 65 has had 10 years of screenings with normal results, the society says that they are safe to stop being screened.

Why should my child be vaccinated so young?

To be most effective, vaccination has to occur before a child can be exposed to the virus. Gardasil, one form of the HPV vaccine, is recommended for all boys and girls ages 11 to 13. They should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. Adolescents who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine.

If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to your doctor or nurse about getting it for him or her. If your child is older than 14, three shots will be needed over six months. People with certain immunocompromising conditions aged nine through 26 should receive three doses as well.

HPV vaccine is recommended based on age, not sexual experience. In fact, even people who have already had sex can benefit from the HPV vaccine. Although first HPV infections usually happen during one of the first few sexual experiences, a person might not be exposed to all of the types of HPV that are covered by the vaccine.

How do I know the HPV vaccine is safe?

According to the FDA, all three vaccines – Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil® – went through years of extensive safety testing before they were licensed for use. Together, they were studied in clinical trials with more than 75,000 people. No serious safety concerns were identified in these trials; however, the CDC and FDA continue to monitor the vaccines to make sure they are safe and beneficial.

Are there side effects to the vaccine?

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Many people have no side effects at all; others are mild and short-lived, like a sore arm.

Common side effects of HPV vaccine include:
  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache or feeling tired
  • Nausea
  • Muscle or joint pain

On very rare occasions, severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions or fainting may occur after vaccination. People with severe allergies to any component of a vaccine should not receive that vaccine.

HPV vaccine cannot cause the HPV infection or cancer. Not receiving the vaccine at the recommended ages, however, can leave us vulnerable to those cancers.

Written by Staff Writer at UMiami Health News; updated by Wyatt Myers.