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Only One-Third of Kids Get the HPV Vaccine — What Parents Should Consider

vaccines

Photo credit: Heather Neal

There’s no question vaccines are a hot-button issue these days. I know it’s definitely something I struggled with when it came time for my son’s first round of shots, and not just because I knew they would hurt. I feared adverse reactions, autism, and developmental decline. I still question whether I should have done them and if I should continue to do so, but seeing as it’s a requirement for schools and daycares around here, that’d be a pretty tough battle to fight.

Many of the standard vaccines seem to be for diseases we can’t currently relate to in the 21st century: measles, mumps, rubella, even chicken pox is uncommon thanks to the vaccine. What we tend to forget when we read all the controversial headlines is that these diseases are foreign to my generation because of vaccines. Most of these diseases seem like they’d be unfortunate and unpleasant, but for the most part treatable. But can you argue the same for cancer? Did you even know there was a vaccine for cancer?

There is: the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine can prevent the sexually transmitted disease of genital warts, but it also protects against cervical cancer (among other cancers), which kills 4,000 women a year in the US. I thought this was one vaccine I was off the hook for —I wouldn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of safety, and I wouldn’t have to worry what message this was sending to my child about unprotected sex. I thought this because I have a boy. The HPV vaccine is for girls, or so I thought. While there are two brands of the HPV vaccine available and both are approved for use in girls, one of them is also approved for males. Seeing as HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, it makes sense that both sexes should be protected in order to prevent the spread of the disease and the subsequent consequences.

While I still have a number of years before I have to decide whether the vaccine is right for my son, it’s a current issue for many parents. Most parents seem to be choosing not to administer the vaccine to their preteens. A recent study shows only about one-third of appropriately aged kids have received the HPV vaccine. This is especially true in the South, where not-so-coincidently there is more poverty and more HPV. (The vaccine costs about $130 per dose, or over $400 for the series.) While some would think this means we need to be pushing the vaccine, especially here in the South, it’s tough to do so knowing how relatively new the vaccine is. When it was first introduced, the vaccine required three shots over a six-month period. Now research is saying perhaps one dose would be sufficient. Not only that, but two or three doses could actually cause adverse effects. A single dose could perhaps increase the number of parents opt to give the vaccine since they could complete it during a yearly physical. Most pre-teens don’t go to the doctor three times in six months otherwise.

Health experts suspect a lot of parents are opting not to vaccinate their kids because they’re not sexually active at the age the vaccine is recommended (around 11-13 years old). You have to admit it’s tough to think about the possibility of your middle schooler having sex, but on the opposite side of the argument, the HPV vaccine is only effective if it’s administered before exposure to the virus. That means before kids are sexually active. Other parents are declining the vaccine for their sons, wrongly thinking like myself that boys don’t need. But HPV doesn’t just cause cervical cancer; it can cause throat cancer and a number of other cancers as well.

Parents are also concerned about the safety of the vaccine given it’s only been around a few years, but so far studies look optimistic – not only is it safe; it’s effective.

That’s a lot to consider when it comes to your kid. Thank goodness I’ve got some time for more conclusive research to come about.

Would you chose to give your child the HPV vaccine?

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