The human papillomavirus (HPV) doesn’t discriminate between genders and now neither do the vaccination recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Boys and girls alike are strongly encouraged to receive a series of three shots to help prevent the spread of the types of HPV that are responsible for about 70 percent of cases of cervical and anal cancer as well as 90 percent of genital warts.
The vaccines are approved for children as young as 9 years old, according to pediatrician David Karas at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics Wadsworth office. He recommends all children receive the vaccine starting at 11 or 12 years old.
“It’s very important they receive all three shots before they become sexually active,” said Dr. Karas. “The vaccine doesn’t help once someone has been exposed to certain types of HVP.”
Some parents fear that vaccinating preteens might encourage promiscuous behavior, but Dr. Karas reminds families that it is important to be vaccinated before becoming sexually active and that younger children have a more robust immune response.
HPV is very prevalent, according to Dr. Karas. “More than 50 percent of people will be exposed at some point in their lives through any type of genital contact – intercourse isn’t necessary. Many people who have the virus don’t know they do, so it’s easy to pass to a partner.”
In his practice, Dr. Karas still sees more girls than boys getting vaccinated because families are more aware of its use to prevent cervical cancer, but they are starting to learn about the other benefits and accept that teens are experimenting sexually and need this protection for themselves and each other.
Although it might not be as effective, the vaccine is still recommended for teens who are sexually active (up to age 26) because it’s possible they might not have been exposed to the HPV types that the vaccine protects against. All women should still begin regular cervical cancer screening with a Pap test beginning at age 21.
Dr. Karas noted that the vaccine is quite safe, with most kids only experiencing soreness in the vaccinated arm or a slight fever.
“The most significant side effect for a small percentage of kids in our office has been fainting, so we have them rest for 15 minutes before leaving,” he said.
Most insurance plans are covering the 3-shot series, which is given within a 6-8 month time frame. Pre-scheduled visits with a nurse rather than an office visit with a doctor help reduce costs and increase the compliance rate.