The Top 6 Questions I Get Asked About the HPV Vaccine, and Why I’m Getting It For My Kids As Soon as They’re Eligible
No doubt – the HPV vaccine (Gardasil) is the vaccine I hear the most hesitancy about. And yet I convince parents each and every day to get it – with patience, understanding, and some awesome, strong evidence that it works and is safe.
Little background: HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a nasty little virus that you get from other people – through intercourse, oral sex, or just heavy “making out” (yes: kissing can spread HPV).
The CDC states that at least 75% of the reproductive-age population has been exposed to HPV!
HPV lays dormant in most people, but sometimes it causes growth. Sometimes, uncontrolled growth.
Uncontrolled growth = cancer. Cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus, mouth, throat, head and neck in women and men. It also causes anogenital warts. Fun times.
HPV is one of the main reasons women get Pap smears – to see if this virus is causing trouble.
“The HPV vaccine? Isn’t that the new one? It seems like it hasn’t been out very long.”
- The first HPV vaccines were released in 2006. That’s almost 17 years ago! 17 YEARS!
- The updated version (from the 4-strain to the 9-strain) came out in 2014. 9 years ago!
- It ain’t new! It’s been used for almost two decades and has been given safely to over 270 million people across the world!
“Isn’t this a little early to get a vaccine for something that’s transmitted through sex? My kids aren’t having sex.”
- The vaccine works BETTER when you are YOUNGER. Your immune system is SMARTER when you’re younger, and holds onto the “information” for longer periods of time!
- As evidence of this, you only need two shots if you get the series before age 15. After age 15, you need three shots.
- It is devastating to think about – but why not protect our kids from things that are out of our (and their) control as well? What if something happened to them, like sexual abuse?
“Are there any bad side effects or reactions to this vaccine?”
- In my 12 years of practice as a general pediatrician, I have never seen a severe reaction to an HPV vaccine.
- A sore arm, dizziness, and fainting can be common 15 minutes following the vaccine, so we often will watch them in the office for a while after they get the shot.
“Does it work?”
- Heck yes, it does. Like, really well. Better than most vaccines, actually.
- The longest studies done on these vaccines are at 10+ years, and they seem to be between 90-97% effective at preventing these cancers and warts.
- There is evidence nearly 99.9% of people who get the shot create some form of antibody to the virus.
“Why should boys get this vaccine?”
- Boys give HPV to girls. And vice versa.
- Boys can get anal cancer, anogenital warts, oral cancer, and throat cancer from this virus.
“Why should I believe you about all this? The internet says I shouldn’t get this vaccine.”
You don’t have to believe me. Though I am a pediatrician who has given thousands of HPV vaccines in my practice. It’s OK. I know some vaccines just seem plain ole scary.
Maybe believe my cousin, though? She’s a cancer doctor. A gynecologic oncologist, to be exact. And what virus does she spend all day battling in order to save the lives of women? HPV.
My cousin is Mae Zakhour, and she practices gynecologic oncology at Spectrum Health Medical Center in Grand Rapids, MI. She treats HPV cancers in women, daily - some as young as 25!
Her exact words to me – to share with you – are:
“Timely HPV vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases. As a gynecologic oncologist, I see and treat young women with cervical cancer on a weekly basis, and even for those in whom cure is a possibility, it comes with a cost.
The treatment for cervical cancer, > 95% of which are caused by HPV, can have devastating effects on a woman’s fertility and quality of life. I want to do everything possible to prevent that for my children. They are getting the HPV vaccine.”
So there you have it. Two moms, who also happen to be doctors, sharing information with you to help you make a very important decision for your child.
And both letting you know we’re getting our kids vaccinated for HPV at age 9 without hesitation!
It’s normal to be nervous about vaccines. What I hope you take from this is more confidence in the HPV vaccine - by knowing it’s super safe, it’s been out a long time, it’s super effective, and it’s super important.
"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.
Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.
I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.
It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"