The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been recommended and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration since 2006. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children between the ages of 11-12 should receive two doses of the shot. However, a study from the CDC found that only 58.6% of adolescents between the ages of 13-17 were fully vaccinated in 2020.
While this is an uptick in vaccinations from previous years, there is still much stigma around this vaccine. Local IHA pediatricia, Omkar Karthikeyan has made sure to prioritize conversations around the HPV vaccine with his patients and their families.
“I still do see a surprising amount of resistance to this vaccine, albeit far less than I did a few years ago,” Karthikeyan said. “This often occurs even among families who otherwise get all the other recommended vaccines. I think it boils down to people viewing HPV as an STD, and most hesitant parents are just uncomfortable thinking about their 11 year old in that way.”
HPV is classified by the CDC as “a group of more than 150 related viruses that infect men and women. These common viruses infect about 13 million people, including teens, every year.”
Contracting HPV can lead to multiple types of cancers including cancer in the back of the throat, anal cancer, cervical (for women only), vaginal (for women only), vulvar (for women only), and penile cancer (for men only).
“The thing about HPV is that it can lie dormant for years or even decades without causing any symptoms,” Karthikeyan said. “Over that time, one can spread it to others, or begin to develop cancerous changes which may not be evident until they are very far along.”
Most people receive vaccines at a younger age, including the HPV vaccine.
“The key with the HPV vaccine is to get kids vaccinated before they’re exposed,” Karthikeyan said. “For a virus that is transmitted via direct, often intimate, contact, it’s best to give this vaccine long before that’s even on anyone’s mind.”
Taking the HPV vaccine later than what has been medically recommended (after a person’s 15th birthday) leads to less effectiveness and potentially a higher likelihood of contracting the virus when exposed.
“This was evidenced by the update to the dosing regimen about 3-4 years ago,” Karthikeyan said. “Those starting the series prior to the 15th birthday, ideally at age 11, as recommended, only require a two-dose regimen, as opposed to those 15 and older, who require the 3 dose regimen.”
For most patients, the side-effects from the vaccine are very mild. The CDC states that the most common side-effects include pain, redness, fever, dizziness/fatigue, nausea, headache, and muscle/joint pain. Overall, parents and adolescents considering getting this vaccine should consult their primary care provider to further understand the benefits of the vaccine.
“Prior to the vaccine, about 60-80% of all people were carriers of the HPV virus. That’s a pretty enormous number,” Karthikeyan said.“The current HPV vaccine is estimated in some large studies to be about 97-100% effective in those populations who have not already been exposed. It is estimated that about 14 Million cases of HPV are transmitted in the US each year, and this translates to tens of thousands of preventable cancer diagnoses. There is no debate within the medical community on this one. We highly recommend it, without reservation.”