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What to Know about the HPV Vaccine

Posted on Aug 26, 2019

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and this week’s On Call for All Kids focuses on one the most important vaccines that protects against cancer, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. Rachel Dawkins, M.D., and Jasmine Reese, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, have been working together to help educate families on the importance of this vaccine.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. An estimated 79 million Americans are infected with some form of HPV. There are more than 100 types of HPV and most people will be exposed in their lifetime. Most people will clear an HPV infection in one to two years, but some types will go on to cause cancer. These types of cancer are preventable with the HPV vaccine. Getting vaccinated during early adolescence is the best way to prevent HPV-related cancer.

Why is the HPV vaccination important?

HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 2015, oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer rates have surpassed cervical cancer and is now the most common HPV-associated cancer in the United States. In the past, pediatricians have focused on stressing the importance of HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer in women but now we also know that other HPV related cancers are increasing. This means we need to make sure we are educating our families and patients on the importance of getting the HPV vaccine as early as possible.

When should you get the HPV vaccine?

The CDC recommends routine vaccination for boys and girls at age 11 or 12 but the series can be started as young as age 9. For children and teens younger than 15, the vaccine is given as a two-shot series, six months apart. For teens who are 15 or older, the vaccine is a three-shot series. The vaccine is recommended for females up to age 26 and up to age 21 for males.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the HPV vaccine is safe and studies of this vaccine have been very reassuring. After getting the vaccine reactions that may occur include mild pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given, fever, or headache. A brief fainting spell can happen after any vaccination, not just the HPV vaccine, although this is rare. The HPV vaccine should not be given to someone who had an allergic reaction to a previous HPV shot.  

What is the take home message?

If you are not sure if your child is ready for the HPV vaccine, please reach out to your pediatrician and ask for more information. Pediatricians are happy to have these discussions and want to keep your kids and teens safe and help prevent cancer.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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