Find My Doctor

Check to see if your provider is available through UH Personal Health Record.

Find your doctor now.
How to find your doctor.

The HPV Vaccine

Posted 1/18/2018 by UHBlog

Thousands of women and men get cancer and other diseases from HPV. We can help you talk to your pre-teen about sexually transmitted diseases like this one and devise a vaccination schedule to help.

Middle-aged couple enjoying a walk

When your child is a pre-teen, it can be hard, as their parent, to think about their sexual health. Yet each year, about 14 million people – including teenage girls and boys – become infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD),” says pediatrician Sara Lee, MD. “Almost all sexually active people get it in their lifetime.”

The good news is that a majority of HPV infections go away by themselves. However, some HPV strains can lead to cancers of the cervix, penis, anus and throat, as well as genital warts. Also, with HPV, there are no signs that you have an STD, other than an abnormal pap smear or genital wart sighting. That's why getting vaccinated can help prevent many HPV-related conditions from occurring, Dr. Lee says.

“This vaccine is about cancer prevention,” Dr. Lee says.

When Should Your Child Get Vaccinated?

Because of the HPV vaccine's effectiveness, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all boys and girls get it at age 11 or 12. But for parents who want to start vaccinations early, it can start at age 9.

Since HPV is spread through intimate skin-to skin contact, “you want to give it to kids before they become sexually active,” Dr. Lee says. Kids younger than 15 need only two doses of the vaccine (taken 6 to 12 months apart). After that, to be most effective, three shots are needed over the course of six months. If you didn’t receive the vaccine as a teen, it's available up until age 26.

But despite the protection the vaccine provides, only 43 percent of teens are up to date on all the recommended doses of HPV vaccine, which worries pediatricians.

“Much of what we focus on in pediatrics is making sure children have a healthy transition into adulthood,” Dr. Lee says. “The HPV vaccine is an important component of that.”

Common Questions About HPV Vaccine

The reasons parents may not inoculate their child varies and ranges from stigma and misinformation. Four commonly asked questions that Dr. Lee hears are:

Question 1: By having this vaccine, will my child think it’s okay to have sex?

Answer: “Getting the HPV vaccine doesn't make kids more likely to have sex,” Dr. Lee says.

In fact, she says, studies have shown that girls who receive the vaccine are no more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior or to have more sexually transmitted diseases. But Dr. Lee is sympathetic to parents who are worried about this.

“We try and really make the shot not be about sex,” Dr. Lee says. “It’s about cancer prevention.”

Question 2: How well does the vaccine work?

Answer: “The vaccine is extremely effective,” Dr. Lee says. “Ninety-eight percent of people who take the shot develop an antibody response one month after completing the series.”

Indeed, just four years after the vaccine was introduced in 2006, the prevalence of HPV-related infections decreased 56 percent among teenage girls ages 14 to 19 years old.

Question 3: Is the shot just for girls?

Answer: According to Dr. Lee, males aren't immune from HPV’s effects. Every year, approximately 9,300 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV, according to the CDC.

“Boys really do need this vaccine,” Dr. Lee says. “They don’t get cervical cancer, but they can get cancers of the throat, penis and anus, which are often caused by HPV.”

Question 4: Is the vaccine safe?

Answer: The shot is safe, but like any other vaccine, “it may initially cause some pain or swelling where the shot was given," Dr. Lee says. "And some kids sometimes faint after a shot. But the vaccine itself – which has been widely studied – is very safe.”

Sara Lee, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can Request an Appointment with Dr. Lee or any other doctor online.

Posted in

"Better Living" Health & Wellness

Do you know which foods aren't as healthy as you think? Ever wonder what to look for in a running shoe? Do you know the warning signs of stroke? The answer to these questions and many others are contained in our monthly "Better Living" e-newsletters. For a FREE subscription, visit our Sign Up page.

Sign Up Now