Five reasons preteens need the HPV vaccine

Much has been debated about children receiving the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV can cause unpleasant and potentially fatal diseases.

Administering the HPV vaccine during early adolescence is critical. Here are five reasons why. 

1. Cancer prevention

While HPV can cause cancer, the HPV vaccine can prevent cancer. The vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted HPV, which can lead to not just cervical cancer but also throat, penile, vaginal, anorectal and vulvar cancer. When given to pre-sexually active adolescents it provides long-term protection against these conditions.

2. Not just for the sexually active

The vaccine is most beneficial to preteens. The vaccine prevents HPV infection, but does not treat established infections. So, administering the vaccine should occur before the onset of sexual activity and exposure to HPV. Boys and girls ages 11 and 12 should get the recommended series of the vaccine. Infection is common in unvaccinated people who can pass the virus along to other unvaccinated persons.

3. Fewer doses

Children ages 9 through 14 only require two doses of the vaccine. Teenagers 15 and older need three doses, which makes it more important that the vaccine be initiated at age 11-12 years.

4. Safe and highly effective

Clinical trials and post-licensure surveillance show that HPV inoculation provides nearly 100-percent protection against pre-cancers and genital warts caused by virus types in the vaccine with a long duration of protection. HPV vaccine is one of the safest vaccines in use. While the vast majority of those inoculated reported no serious side effects, typical mild side effects that can accompany any vaccine may include transient soreness at the injection site, headache, low-grade fever and nausea.

5. Understanding their health

Most 11- and 12-year-olds are not focused on the diseases vaccines are designed to prevent, but rather on the number of shots they need to get and the possible side effects. Parents and health care providers should explain that HPV is one of four vaccines (flu shot, Tdap and meningococcal are the others) routinely given to 11- and 12-year-olds and that it helps protect against certain types of cancer.

Lorry Rubin, MD, is chief of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and a member of Northwell Health Physician Partners.