Does my child need the HPV vaccine?

Human papilloma virus, or HPV, affects nearly all sexually active men and women at some point in their lives. Many people “clear” or fight off their infections without ever knowing that they had an infection at all. However, a percentage of people with the virus do not clear their infections and may develop genital warts, cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, and penile cancers.

We spoke to Dr. Marisa Turner, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, on the most common myths she hears from parents regarding the HPV vaccine.

dr-marisa-turner-choc-childrens-pediatrician
Dr. Marisa Turner, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, addresses the most common myths about the HPV vaccine.

Myth 1: My child is too young. They don’t need the vaccine yet.

Some parents decline the HPV vaccine because they think since they have years until their child is sexually active. However, many parents don’t realize the vaccine is more effective the earlier it is given. The immune response to the vaccine is better when given younger, therefore only two doses are needed if the series is started prior to the 15th birthday.

The number of recommended doses depends on the child’s age when they receive their first dose. A two-dose series is given for children starting the series before their 15th birthday. Children who start the series on or after their 15th birthday will receive a three-dose series.

Myth 2: You can only get HPV if you’re sexually active.

Although sexual intercourse is the most common way to get HPV, it is not the only way to get it. It could take just one encounter to catch the virus, and most people who carry the virus have no symptoms and don’t realize they even have it. Even for those that are having protected intercourse, you can still catch HPV despite using a condom.

Myth 3: Giving my child the HPV vaccine will make them become sexually active.

Multiple studies have shown that giving this vaccine doesn’t increase rates of sexual activity in those patients compared to those who don’t receive it.

It’s important for adolescents to take a part in their own health and begin to realize that decisions they make now can affect them later in life and their future health.

Myth 4: Getting the vaccine will guarantee my child does not contract HPV.

Most adults are likely to get HPV at some point in their lives. Some people clear it on their own, but others do not. If your child is vaccinated against HPV and later contracts HPV, it’s s likely to be a strain you can clear on your own.

The HPV vaccine prevents against the nine strains of HPV most likely to lead to cancer. About half of all new infections are in people 15-24-year-olds, the peak age at which one should receive the HPV vaccine.

Myth 5: HPV only affects females, so my son does not need the HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine has benefits for males too. It prevents oral, anal and penile cancer, and genital warts. Getting vaccinated will also help prevent them from passing it on to other partners, which can happen even in the absence of visible symptoms of HPV.

Myth 6: This vaccine is new, so it must not be safe enough to give my child.

The HPV vaccine was first administered in 2006. Prior to coming to market, it was studied for many years. Ongoing studies have tracked patients for years after receiving the vaccine, and they have not shown any adverse effects. The HPV vaccine is administered and studied all over the world.

Each year in the U.S., 13,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. This number has decreased since the introduction of the HPV vaccine.

Myth 7: My child doesn’t need the HPV vaccine. If they contract HPV, we’ll just treat it.

There is no good treatment for HPV. Some strains clear on their own, but others do not. It’s better to get vaccinated and lower your risk of getting HPV in the first place.

Myth 8: Getting the HPV vaccine will affect my child’s fertility later in life.

Receiving the HPV vaccine will not affect fertility. However, having HPV can cause changes in the cervix which can later affect fertility.

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What Vaccines Does My Teen Need?

By Nina Nosavan and Rosie Korman, pediatric residents at CHOC Children’s

Vaccines are not just important for little ones. Your preteens and teens need to be vaccinated too! It’s important for parents to be aware of vaccines updated that will benefit their adolescents.

Meningococcus (MCV)

Meningitis is a severe, life-threatening illness that begins with fever, headache, and stiff neck and can rapidly progress to coma, multi-organ failure, and death. Approximately 10-15 percent of cases are fatal, and of the survivors, 20 percent can have severe disabilities including hearing loss, brain damage, amputations, kidney damage and other complications. Almost all disease is caused by the five serotypes A, B, C, W, and Y of bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Protection against four of the five of these serotypes is provided by the meningococcus conjugate vaccine (MCV). The meningococcus conjugate vaccine is recommended for all adolescents after age 11, with a booster given at age 16. This vaccine schedule provides critical protection against this devastating disease during the college years, when meningitis commonly occurs as outbreaks in young adults living in close quarters in dormitories.

The B serotype of meningococcus is not included in the MCV. Protection against this form of meningococcus requires a separate immunization. This vaccine can be given to any adolescent 16 to 23 years of age to provide protection from serotype B during this high-risk period. The serotype B vaccination is recommended to be given in multiple doses; there are two different brands of licensed vaccinations, each with a different dosing schedule. Ask your provider which serotype B vaccine they have available at their clinic, and which dosing schedule they recommend.

vaccinesPhoto courtesy of The National Meningitis Association.

Additionally, children 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections should receive the vaccine. This group includes:

  • People exposed to a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak
  • People with no spleens or damaged spleens
  • People diagnosed with persistent complement component deficiency

HPV Vaccine

The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine protects against HPV infections and HPV-associated diseases such as cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, oropharyngeal, and anal cancers and genital warts.  HPV is very common; nearly all sexually active adults (both men and women) will become infected with at least one of the human papillomaviruses in their lifetime. The majority of HPV infections are asymptomatic, however, over time the human papillomavirus causes cervical and other cancers. The HPV vaccine has been shown to be incredibly effective in preventing both HPV infection and the subsequent cancers HPV causes. It is most effective if given prior to the onset of sexual activity (and thus prior to HPV infection), though is still highly effective in sexually active individuals. The vaccine is recommended for patients between 9 and 26 years of age.

  • Girls and boys who initiate the vaccine series before 15 years of age should receive 2 doses at least 6 months apart.
  • Teenagers and young adults who initiate the vaccine series after 15 years of age should receive 3 doses at 0, 1 or 2, and 6 months.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine from a pediatrician’s perspective, or ask your child’s healthcare provider for more information.

Tdap Vaccine

Infants and young children receive the DTap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. As they get older, the protection wears off. The Tdap vaccine is a booster that helps to protect your preteen or teen from these illnesses.

  • Tetanus (lockjaw) is caused by bacteria in the soil and enters the body through cuts in the skin. It can cause lockjaw, painful muscle cramps, breathing problems, and paralysis. Up to 1 out of 5 people who get tetanus die.
  •  Diptheria is spread through coughing and sneezing. It causes destruction of tissue in the upper respiratory system that impairs a person’s ability to breathe or swallow. It can also cause heart failure and paralysis. Up to 1 out of 10 people who get diphtheria die.
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) is spread through coughing and sneezing. It can cause infants to stop breathing or children to have uncontrollable coughing fits. It can make preteens and teens very sick.

The first Tdap vaccine should be given at age 11 or 12. If your teen is 13 to 18 years old and has not received the vaccine, talk to you doctor right away. This vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women during every pregnancy, and for everyone that lives in the same household as a newborn baby. A variant of this vaccine, Td, is recommended every 10 years for adults.

Catch-up Immunizations

Is your adolescent up-to-date on all their immunizations? Did you know that if your adolescent missed some of his immunizations as a child, it is not too late to immunize? Vaccinations for many common illnesses, including polio, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox), measles, mumps and rubella, all can be caught-up during the adolescent years. Be sure to ask your physician if your child has received all the necessary immunizations, and whether any catch-up immunizations are necessary.

PPSV23 Vaccine

Pneumococcal disease causes infections of the blood, infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, ear infections, and pneumonia. Infants and young children should receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) to protect against these infections.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria and is recommended for children older than 2 years of age with certain medical conditions such as sickle cell disease, HIV infection, chronic heart or lung conditions, or cochlear implants. Teenagers and young adults who have asthma or who smoke cigarettes should also receive this vaccine.

Download your immunization guide

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The HPV Vaccine: A Pediatrician’s Perspective

By Dr. Shruti Vora, pediatric resident at CHOC Children’s

What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus affects nearly all sexually active men and women at some point in their lives according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people “clear” or fight off their infections within one to two years, never knowing that they ever had an infection at all. A percentage of people with the virus do not clear their infections and may develop genital warts, cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, and penile cancers.

What is the vaccine made of?

Scientists use a “virus-like particle” to make the HPV vaccine. It cannot cause HPV because it is not a portion of the actual virus. The serotypes (specific strains) responsible for the majority of cancers are HPV 16 and 18.  Ninety percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11. All four serotypes are contained in the quadrivalent (four type) Gardasil vaccine. Gardasil 9, which covers nine additional strains, will soon be replacing the quadrivalent Gardasil, offering even better protection.

If HPV is transmitted sexually, and my child is not having sex, why do they need to get the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is a preventative vaccine. Studies have shown that in patients who never had HPV, the effectiveness of preventing pre-cancerous changes to the cervix was 97-100 percent . This is why the vaccine is recommended in all girls before they begin to be sexually active. The vaccine is also known to be more effective when given at a younger age. It is recommended in girls 9-26 years of age.

My son is not at risk for cervical cancer, why should he get the vaccine?

The vaccine is recommended in all boys ages 9-21 years due to the fact that many head and neck, penile and anal cancers are directly linked to HPV serotypes 16 and 18. Vaccinating males can also help prevent cervical cancer in their female partners by reducing the rate of transmission.

I am concerned that my child will become sexually active at an earlier age because they received the HPV vaccine.

This is a common concern and actually has been studied multiple times. In the journal Pediatrics in 2012, doctors looked at the medical records of 493 girls who received the HPV vaccine and 905 who did not. There was no difference between the number of pregnancies, rates of sexually transmitted disease testing, or discussions regarding birth control between the two groups.

How do we know that giving the vaccine will not have any side effects?

The most common side effect has been pain and redness at the site of the shot. Fainting has also been reported as the second most common side effect, but the CDC has recommended some years ago for all patients to stay seated or lying flat for 15 minutes after the injection is given. This has greatly reduced the number of fainting spells and subsequent falls.

The HPV vaccine is a rare opportunity for you to make an investment in your child’s future and potentially prevent cancer in our young ones.  Ask your pediatrician about it.

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