Back to School Vaccinations: Don’t Forget the HPV Vaccine

by Katy Henke

With Labor Day weekend bringing summer vacation to a close, parents are putting the finishing touches on preparation for the impending school year. In addition to school supplies and new clothing, parents should also be vaccinating their children prior to school starting. Vaccinations help prevent possible future infections and diseases. Prevention through vaccines is one of the best ways to help your child stay healthy during their lifetime and is recommended by multiple health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the National Cancer Institute.

Some of the more common vaccines parents may have heard of, and that some schools in the United States require, include Tdap, which protects against diphtheria and tetanus; IPV, which protects against polio; and MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. These diseases have decreased in children and young adults throughout the years thanks to the use of vaccines. Influenza (flu) is another common virus that can help be reduced and infection prevented when children, teens, and adults receive the flu vaccine. Research continues to show that vaccines are important, safe, and effective for children and teens, and should be administered at appropriate ages. The CDC offers a quick vaccine guide for parents based on a child’s age.

A more recent vaccine, and one that’s often overlooked by many parents and doctors, is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This vaccine protects against a specific strand of viruses that can cause cancer. The HPV virus affects one in four people. It’s estimated that 14 million people each year contract the HPV virus, which can lead to cervical and vaginal cancer in women, and penile cancer in men. More than 90 percent of sexually active men and 80 percent of sexually active women will contract a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Most HPV infections do go away on their own, but some don’t. The HPV vaccine helps protect and reduce these infection rates

The HPV vaccine series is recommended to both preteen boys and girls beginning around age 11 or 12, prior to when they would contract the HPV virus. This vaccine is a three-part series for both girls and boys, with the second shot given at one to two months after the first shot, and the final third shot given around six months after the first shot. Teenagers and young adults can also receive the vaccine up until age 26, so talk with your doctor today. The HPV vaccine will be most effective when the person being vaccinated receives all three shots.

Research continues to show that the HPV vaccine should very successfully prevent later adult cancers in preteens and young adults. Close to 100 percent of people who receive the vaccine will be protected against the types of HPV targeted by the vaccine. And studies have found that vaccination cuts the risk of cervical pre-cancer in about half.

The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of cancer, yet vaccination rates are still low due in part to lack of knowledge and other barriers. Talk with your child’s doctor or your doctor today to learn if the HPV vaccine may help reduce their risk for cancer in the future.

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