The HPV vaccine has gained much attention in recent news, but there are many questions as to what it actually does and if it actually works. Experts at the CDC are now recommending that all children get vaccinated with the HPV vaccine long before they are sexually active. I hear many parents question the wisdom of this vaccine until they understand how deadly HPV viruses can be. HPV, or human papilloma virus, is the most common STD in America. The infections affect people of all ages: teenage girls, boys, men, women, and even babies. Fourteen million people become infected with HPV each year and are therefore put at greater risk for cervical cancer and head and neck cancers. Though every year, 19,000 women develop cervical cancer, and 8,000 men develop penile or head and neck cancers that are directly linked to the HPVs, many parents do not fully recognize the real danger of HPV infections.
The first HPV vaccine was approved for use in girls and young women in 2007 and recent data indicate its value. Statistics gathered by the CDC shows that the HPV vaccine is incredibly effective, and therefore invaluable to protect our teenagers’ current and future health. Among girls ages 14 through 19 who were studied, the HPV infection rate has dropped by 56% in the past four years, even while vaccine rates are low. In the CDC sample population studied, just 5.1% of teenage girls became infected, compared to a pre vaccine rate of 11.5%. Imagine how low infection rates will be when far more children are vaccinated! If your teen hasn’t been vaccinated already, please don’t wait. The HPV vaccine has proven to be safe and effective defense against HPV. The inconvenience of simply getting a few injections is nothing in comparison to the devastating consequences of cancer.
Parents need to keep in mind that the HPV vaccine is a powerful tool to prevent cancers but only works if it is given before a person is infected, hence the young recommended age. Remember this Doc Smo pearl: “Prevention trumps treatment, every time.” Lets pass on a HPV free world to the next generation in the same way we were given a world without smallpox. I hope you agree that a few shots is a small price to pay to avoid all that future pain and suffering.
Written collaboratively by Keri Register and Paul Smolen MD