Human Papilloma Virus and the HPV Vaccine Facts

There are a few facts to get out of the way before we delve into this very important subject:

  1. The vast majority of people have sex at some point in their life.
  2. The vast majority of sexually active people have been exposed to human papilloma virus (HPV).

Now that we’ve covered those 2 facts, let’s focus less on how HPV is acquired and more on what it can do to your body.

Mother and DaughterFirst and foremost, HPV can cause a number of types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, oral, and throat cancers. But there’s more – we know that HPV (specifically HPV types 6 and 11) causes warts in the genital and anal regions, but did you know that these strains of HPV can also cause wart-like lesions in the throat of newborns, called Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis? It’s true. Research has shown that this can be caused from the newborn’s passage through the birth canal of a woman with HPV. This can cause life threatening breathing difficulties and require specialized care to treat.

There is something out there that can protect you and your loved ones – the quadrivalent HPV vaccine (protection against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18). The recommended starting age of this vaccination is 11-12 years old, and all 3 doses are required to achieve maximum effectiveness. Many studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective in the short term, and now a new study in Pediatrics shows that the HPV vaccine is safe and very effective in the long term. After eight years, subjects still had the HPV antibodies and had no adverse effects from the vaccine.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal of 80% of the nation’s teens receiving 3 doses of HPV vaccine by 15 years of age. Despite the vaccine’s benefits, only about 57% of girls aged 11 to 15 are getting the first dose of the vaccine and only 33% are getting all three doses. Among boys, about 34% are getting the first dose of the vaccine, but only about 14% are getting all three doses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every teenager should get this vaccine. Every. Single. Teenager. Do not wait until they become sexually active. The younger it’s given, the better the protective benefits. Remember, at some point in time, whether or not you want to acknowledge it, your son or daughter will have sex. And at that point, there’s a good chance they will be exposed to HPV (refer to facts # 1 and 2).

Do you have questions about HPV or the HPV vaccine?

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Human Papilloma Virus and the HPV Vaccine Facts
About Paula Cody, MD, MPH
Dr. Paula Cody is fellowship trained in adolescent medicine and is a pediatrician at the UW Health John Stephenson Teenage and Young Adult Clinic.
View all posts by Paula Cody, MD, MPH

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