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Questions, Answers & Myths about the HPV Vaccine

Published by , on Aug 15, 2014

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

Immunizations have helped children stay healthy for more than 50 years and have reduced the number of vaccine-preventable diseases by more than 90 percent. One of the newest vaccines added to the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule of immunizations is the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Vaccine, which was recommended in 2007 for females and in 2012 for both males and females (based on updated data). This vaccination for pre-teens and teens is a source of many questions from parents, and in the overview below adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Stephanie Crewe provides general information about the HPV vaccine and when it should be administered for the best protection.

What is a vaccine and why do we vaccinate?
Vaccinations are important prevention tools that promote the best possible health outcomes and well-being. Immunization (vaccination) is a way of creating immunity to certain diseases by using small amounts of a killed or weakened microorganism (can be viruses or bacteria) that causes the particular disease. Vaccines stimulate the immune system to react as if there were a real infection – it fends off the “infection” and remembers the organism so that it can fight it quickly should it enter the body later.

What is the HPV Vaccine?
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination is one of several safe and effective vaccines that are highly recommended for pre-teens and teens. This vaccine protects both males and females against some of the most common HPV types and health problems that the HPV virus can cause. Vaccination against HPV is a routine part of adolescent preventive health care.

What is HPV?
HPV (or Human Papillomavirus) is a common virus that is spread by sexual contact with another person. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and it is linked to the development of cervical cancer, genital warts, warts in the throat (also called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis), and cancers of the head and neck.

Who is at risk for HPV?
Anyone who plans to be sexually active in his/her lifetime and anyone who is having (or has ever had) sex is at risk for HPV. Most males and females that have ever had sex are exposed to this virus at some point in their lives. Additionally, many people who become infected are unaware that they have it and may unintentionally pass the virus to their sexual partner.

How can HPV be prevented?
The best way to prevent HPV is to avoid sexual activity that involves any genital contact. Additionally, HPV vaccines have become a critically important prevention tool against many diseases and cancers caused by HPV. To get the best protection, three shots are given over a six-month period and this vaccine is most effective when given before sexual activity begins.

Who should get the HPV vaccination?
HPV vaccines are routinely recommended for 11 to 12 year-old boys and girls. The vaccine prevents disease in people who have not been infected in the past with one or more types of HPV. However, the vaccine does not work as well for those who were exposed to the virus before getting the vaccine. HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV and it does not prevent all types of cancers.

When should pre-teens and teens get vaccinated against HPV?
HPV vaccines offer the best protection to individuals who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to establish an immune response before being sexually active with another person. For those who did not receive the HPV vaccine during the suggested time interval, there are certain recommendations for receiving this vaccine up to age 26. Your health care provider would be an excellent resource to determine whether an individual qualifies for the vaccine.

What are the side effects of the HPV vaccine?
The most common reported side effects are mild and include pain/redness/swelling/itching at the site of injection, low-grade fever, headache and nausea. Life-threatening allergic reactions, dizziness and passing out from this vaccine are rare.

What are some HPV vaccine myths?
Myth 1: “The vaccine causes HPV infection.”
Fact: The vaccine does not contain HPV genetic material. Instead, the vaccine contains particles that appear similar to the HPV virus. Since no HPV genetic material is in the vaccine, HPV infection or illness is not caused by HPV vaccination.

Myth 2: “HPV vaccine will treat and get rid of existing HPV infection.”
Fact: HPV vaccines do not cure HPV-related health problems that occurred before vaccination.

Myth 3: “HPV vaccine leads to sexual activity at a younger age.”
Fact: Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that HPV vaccination does not promote or give the “green light” for earlier sex. It does, however, prevent HPV related disease and cancers.

Helpful Resources about HPV and HPV vaccination:
cdc.gov
youngwomenshealth.org
youngmenshealthsite.org
kidshealth.org
immunize.org

Vaccinations are one of the best things medicine has to offer – it is better to prevent diseases than to treat them once they occur. View the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule for immunizations.

3 Comments

  • Darren Witte says:

    I’m a provider in a busy primary care practice. Can you provide some guidance to providers as to how to integrate HPV9? For example, a patient has received 1 or 2 doses of HPV4 and now the office stocks HPV9. How many doses of HPV9 are then appropriate. Also, how does one answer the patient who has finished the HPV4 series and is interested in protection with HPV9? How many doses of HPV9 do they need?

    • CHoR says:

      Dr. Witte, We’re checking on an answer for you!

      • CHoR says:

        Dr. Witte, Please see the response below from Dr. Crewe. \n\nGreat question! The CDC has addressed this concern on their page, however, there is simply no “right” way to do it. The series should be completed with 3 doses total and you do not have to “boost” someone who has received 3 doses of HPV-4 valent with additional HPV-9 valent vaccine. Currently, the CDC does not recommend providing additional doses to those who have already completed the series. To address those that wish to have additional protection with HPV-9 valent, there are currently no recommendations to restart or “reboost” them with additional protection. \n\nSome examples:\n1) Received 1 dose of HPV-4, complete next 2 doses in series with HPV-9\n2) Received 2 doses of HPV-4, completed series with HPV-9\n3) No doses received – It depends! If your office practice is still trying to get rid of HPV-4, some would start the series with HPV-9, give HPV-9 as 2nd dose, and HPV-4 as 3rd dose; The ALTERNATIVE would be HPV-9 (1st dose), HPV-4 (2nd dose, HPV-9 3rd dose.

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