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Should I Vaccinate? What You Need to Know About HPV

Last Fall my daughter was due for a doctor’s check up before she started middle school. We opted to get her the HPV vaccine, though it’s not mandatory. It feels a little weird to be faced with decisions about your child’s sexual health. I don’t love it. It’s an awkward transition in parenting, but every step of parenting has pushed me just a bit out of my comfort zone. (Starting with pregnancy and birth, which were not remotely near anything that could be called my “comfort” zone.)

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that effects men and women. Certain strains of it lead to cervical cancer which kills 4,000 women in the US each year. There is some debate about the HPV vaccine, which is available for boys and girls. People worry that it might encourage promiscuity and there are always questions about the side effects of different kinds of vaccines children receive.

Even though we teach our kids that abstinence is the best form of protection against STDs, I decided to vaccinate my daughter for HPV. It makes sense to me to take advantage of preventive care like this vaccine.

Here is the information you need to make an informed decision about the vaccine.

  • HPV vaccine is recommended by multiple medical organizations and vaccines are FDA and USDA approved.
  • It is recommended for girls 11—13, but is FDA approved for women ages 9—26.
  • It Defends against 4 strains of HPV.
  • It does not treat HPV; It guards against it.
  • You cannot get HPV from vaccine.
  • Condoms are not fully effective in preventing the spread of HPV.
  • It is still necessary to have regular PAP tests by your doctor.

A few pros:

  • The vaccine guards against four of the HPV strains.
  • According to one study, “vaccination of the entire population would prevent more than 200,000 HPV infections, 100,000 abnormal Pap tests, and 3,300 cases of cervical cancer.”
  • The vaccine has been licensed by the FDA and has been deemed safe and effective by the CDC.
  • HPV vaccines are recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on Infectious Diseases and  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

And here are the cons:

  • The vaccine doesn’t prevent all strains that can cause cervical cancer.
  • Because it is relatively new, little is known about long term effects.
  • There have been some claims of negative effects such as fainting, headaches, and dizziness after taking the HPV vaccine.
  • Some parents think it is too early—as young as age 9—to vaccinate for a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Some parents believe that it will provide their daughters a sense of safety, and their teens will become more sexually promiscuous.
  • Some parents feel there are already too many vaccines.

This information comes from The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet for Family and Consumer Sciences.

Read more of my writing at Babble and at my blog, Every Day I Write the Book.

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