When all children and young adults are vaccinated, we can eradicate certain forms of cancer caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus. Yet some parents are not availing themselves of this medical advancement to protect their children.
Some sobering statistics.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects more than six million people in the United States every year. It is the most common STI and is responsible for over 70 percent of cervical cancers in women and more than half of other genital cancers in both men and women, including penile and anal cancers.
Up to 4,000 women die from cervical cancer each year, but the risk of health risks to men are relatively low. So why is the medical community recommending vaccination for boys as well as girls? Ask yourself: is any risk of your son developing genital cancer, while rare, a risk worth taking? Most importantly, men are equally responsible for spreading HPV during sexual intercourse. That is why the Centers for Disease Control recently began advising that all children, including boys, be vaccinated.
When to vaccinate.
The CDC recommends vaccination between the ages of 9 and 26, with 11 to 12 being the optimal age — while they’re getting their sixth grade vaccinations and long before they become sexually active. The vaccine is administered as a series of three shots in the arm, two and four months apart.
The truth behind the controversy.
The vaccine is very safe; allergic reactions are extremely rare. However, the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection makes it a sensitive topic for some people. Parental expectations and religious norms can fog one’s perspective. I’ve often heard parents say, “My daughter is a good girl. She doesn’t need the vaccine because she’s not going to have sex before marriage.” Or, “If we give him the vaccination, he’ll be even more encouraged to have sex outside of marriage.”
First of all, studies have shown that getting the vaccine does not increase sexual activity. There are so many environmental factors and social pressures that contribute to a young adult’s decision on whether or not to have sex — namely pregnancy or the risk of contracting a host of other common STIs.
To the parents who raise their children to be very careful and hold off on sex until marriage, I say: you’re right. I can tell that you have good kids who listen to you. But your personal values and expectations cannot protect your son or daughter against a future partner who may have made some mistakes.
It’s like wearing a seatbelt every time you get into the car. You may be a good driver, but you can’t control other people’s driving.
What I would do.
We can prevent certain, often deadly, cancers with this life-changing vaccine. When my children turn 11 years old, you bet I’m going to get them vaccinated. If you have any more doubts or questions, I urge you to speak with your family physician. You may also find these resources helpful: