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HPV Vaccine for Girls and Boys: Understanding the Facts

This might be one of the most dreaded, yet important decisions a family must make when raising tweens. Recommended since 2006, the HPV vaccine typically is given around age 11 or 12—quite early for the birds and the bees conversation, we understand. Here’s a closer look at the vaccination, including why it’s important and how it works.

What is HPV?

It is a very common virus that can lead to cancer-causing infections. About four out of five people will get HPV at some point in their lives. And most infected people don’t know that they have it. There are more than 100 types of HPV. At least 13 strains are known to cause cancer.

When is my child supposed to get the vaccinations?

Girls and boys should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) at age 11 or 12. The HPV Vaccine requires 2-3 shots, depending on the age when it is started. Your child can start getting vaccinated as early as age 9. It is best to complete the series by your child’s 13th birthday, because cancer protection decreases as age at vaccination increases.

What if my child isn’t sexually active–or showing signs of becoming sexually active?

HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. By starting prevention at age 11 or 12, regardless of sexual activity or intent, you offer the most HPV cancer prevention for your child. Children are vaccinated before they’re exposed to an infection – just like measles or pneumonia. HPV is so common that most people will catch it at some point in their lives. By vaccinating your child at the recommended age, you are protecting them now and in the future. Plus, the vaccine remains effective at preventing six types of cancer for life.

Is the vaccine for both boys and girls?

It’s strongly recommended for boys and girls. The vaccine helps prevent infection with the most common types of HPV that can cause cervical, throat, vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer. And the vaccine has proven very effective. Within 8 years of the HPV vaccine being introduced in the United States, HPV infections decreased by over 70% in females aged 14-19 years in the U.S.

Is the HPV vaccination safe?

The most common reactions from HPV vaccine are mild and like those of other vaccines. Scientists and doctors around the world monitor the HPV vaccine safety and are confident that they are extremely safe. More than 270 million doses have been distributed around the world since 2006, and safety of vaccines, including HPV vaccine, is continually watched by around the world.

Parents concerned about the vaccine’s ingredients are often worried about aluminum. People are exposed to aluminum every day through food and cooking utensils. Aluminum-containing vaccines have been used for decades (including in hepatitis A, B, and tetanus) and have been given to more than 1 billion people without problems.

Side effects can occur with any medication. The most common side effects of HPV vaccination are mild and like that of other vaccines. The most common side effects of HPV vaccination include headache, fever, and reactions in the arm where the shot was given (such as soreness, redness, and swelling).

Why is it important to get the shot(s)?

Infection with HPV is very common, and 4 of 5 people will get it at some point in their lives. About 80 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States. About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. HPV vaccination is expected to prevent 90% of six HPV-related cancers when given before your child is exposed to the virus.

Where can my child get the vaccine?

Most health insurance companies cover this vaccination which is administered by your child’s doctor. For questions about HPV vaccination, talk to your doctor, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org/hpv.

Think this can’t happen to you? Learn about how one Noblesville family lost their daughter to cervical cancer and see what they’re doing to educate others about the importance of the HPV vaccination.

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