“The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are more than 40 different types of HPV, but not all of them cause cancer (some only cause warts). Types 16 and 18 are most dangerous, causing about 70% of cervical cancers, or about 5% of all cancers worldwide. Of course the best way to stop cancer is abstinence from sexual intercourse, but realistically that’s not going to happen for many people. That’s why it’s so important to get regular Pap smears and to get vaccinated against certain high-risk HPV types before becoming sexually active. This article will explain the details of the HPV vaccine.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against some of the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. It’s recommended for girls and boys ages 11 or 12 years old, but it can be given as early as age 9. The best time for a child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active, so children can stay healthy and prevent cancer later in life.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccine is a shot that you get in your upper arm. It protects against the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The immune system creates “”memory cells”” to fight off any future infection with those specific types of HPV. This way, if a person ever comes in contact with those specific high-risk HPV types again, his/her immune system will be ready to fight them off immediately.
When should my child get the HPV vaccine?
Preteens should get two doses of the HPV vaccine, three months apart. Ideally, it’s best for boys and girls to receive their vaccines before they become sexually active.
If a girl is already sexually active, she should still get the vaccine. Two doses of the HPV vaccine given six months apart will work best in this case.
If your child is already 15 or older when he or she starts the series, the doctor may adjust the schedule to make sure that it’s completed before he/she is exposed to any of the HPV types in real life. That would make sure your teen is protected against those types. For example, if your teen is getting started with this series at age 15, he/she may be able to get three doses of the HPV vaccine over six months instead of just two doses over three months.
What’s the difference between the HPV vaccine and the meningitis vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is different from the meningitis vaccine. They’re two separate vaccines that protect against two different illnesses. The HPV vaccine is specifically for the human papillomavirus. The meningitis vaccine is for meningococcal bacteria, which can cause serious illness like meningitis and bloodstream infections. These are both examples of “”shots”” or “”vaccines.””
The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. There are more than 40 types of HPV, and most of them don’t cause cancer or any health problems at all. Some of the HPV types that cause cancer may be covered by the meningitis vaccine.
Should I be concerned if my child got one or two doses of the HPV vaccine at 15 or younger?
Maybe. Your child might not have been fully immunized against HPV if he/she got just two doses of the vaccine while he/she was still in high school. This is called “”vaccine overload.”” As a result, your child might have gotten only partial protection against the virus. That’s why it’s important that all three doses be given to adolescents when they are 11 or 12.
But don’t worry too much. Getting two doses of the vaccine doesn’t mean your child won’t be protected against HPV and/or won’t get cancer, even if he or she has sex in the future. It just means that they might not be fully protected. Similar to getting the meningitis vaccine when you’re 15, your child will need to receive all three doses – at least six months apart – before getting his or her booster shot about a year after the last dose.
Adults 19 to 49 years old need two doses of HPV vaccine separated by at least six months. The vaccine should be given before starting any new sexual relationships.
Preteens and teens who have already completed the three-dose series do not need another dose. If your child has not received all of the doses of HPV vaccine, he or she should still get vaccinated if it’s been more than five years since the first dose was given. Your child may need a booster shot later in life to ensure he or she is protected from the types of HPV that cause cancer.
Why does my child need a booster shot?
Your child will need this booster shot (called “”booster dose””) if he of she started the HPV vaccine series at age 15 or older. There is no reason to wait any longer, even if your child starts having sex. Giving this booster shot will help ensure that your child has been fully protected against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
What are the side effects?
The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are redness or soreness at the injection site, fever, headache, and dizziness. These side effects usually go away within 3 to 4 weeks after receiving the first dose of vaccine. Your child may feel tired for the rest of the day. The booster dose will usually be given at least one month after the first dose.
Can my child still get cervical cancer if he/she is not vaccinated?
Ten to 15 percent of women and 5 to 10 percent of men develop cervical cancer. Still, it’s important to remember that most teens who have sex rarely get cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine can prevent 80-90 percent of all cervical cancers caused by those high-risk types. But it can’t protect against all types or forms of this virus.
If your child is not vaccinated when he/she is sexually active, he/she can still get HPV and/or cervical cancer. It takes time for the viruses to cause cell changes like precancerous cells, and if you’re exposed to them again while they’re still in your body, they may cause cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine will not prevent these subsequent cancers.
What if my child doesn’t finish the three-dose series?
Your child should get his/her booster shot as soon as possible. This is especially important if your child has not yet reached age 25 or if your child has already completed the standard three-dose series but had two doses given at age 15 or younger.
Talk to your doctor about your child’s individual vaccine schedule. You may want to get a new health care provider for the booster shot.
Is there a way to tell if my child has been fully protected?
Yes. Your doctor can do a Pap test and HPV test on your child to make sure they are protected against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It’s important that your child still gets regular Pap tests even after he or she has completed the three-dose series of HPV vaccine if your child is 23 or younger.
What if my child already has HPV?
If your child already has HPV, he or she still has the good news: The vaccine works against all strains of the virus. Your child’s doctor can help make sure that your child is protected from cancer and genital warts. If your child is an adolescent and/or teen, he or she should receive all three doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer and genital warts. Your health care provider may give him/her a pregnancy prevention shot to help reduce his/her risk of getting cervical cancer if he or she becomes sexually active at a later date.”
Try now our interactive tool Should My Child Get the HPV Vaccine? It will help you understand what your choices are and understand the vaccination process.