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Recommended Age for the HPV Vaccine is 11-Years-Old

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Recommended Age for the HPV Vaccine is 11-Years-Old

May 01, 2018
The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine prevents seven different types of cancers, pre-cancers, and genital warts. But some parents don't ask for it. Deanna Kepka, MPH, PhD, from Huntsman Cancer Institute says some parents fear that getting the vaccine will make their child sexually active. Yet Kepka says plenty of research disproves this fear. She discusses why the HPV vaccine is an important, proven protection for kids who may encounter cancer later in life without it.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: HPV virus vaccine, questions that are answered, that's next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health information from expects, supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is

Interviewer: Deanna Kepka from Huntsman Cancer Institute. This interview, we want to get to some of the common misconceptions that people might have about the HPV vaccination. Maybe some common reasons why they don't have their children get it in time when they should. But first of all, let's start with why should somebody get the HPV vaccination. Why is it important?

Deanna: Why should you have your children get the HPV vaccine? It is because we have a cancer prevention vaccine. But it's not that it prevents seven different types of cancers, it also prevents a lot of pre-cancers and hundreds of thousands of cases of genital warts each year in the United States.

When Should Your Child Get Vaccinated?

Interviewer: But a lot of children aren't getting it. First of all, what are the CDC recommendations for when a child should get the vaccines by?

Deanna: Children should get the vaccine at ages 11 and 12. They should be received when they're receiving their other immunizations at the same time, which is the Tdap vaccine and the meningococcal vaccine. If they get the vaccine at ages 13 and older, it's considered a late immunization, but they can still receive the HP vaccine all the way up until their young adulthood years.

Interviewer: Okay. But it's recommended to get it at those earlier ages.

Deanna: Eleven and 12 or younger.

Interviewer: And don't just assume that it's going to be something that your physician's going to offer, because a lot of them just make it optional or don't even mention it.

Deanna: Exactly. That's one of our biggest barriers is that it's not presented strongly by primary care providers.

Interviewer: And since it's a cancer preventing vaccine, it should be.

Deanna: As a parent, you need to ask for it.

What Does the HPV Vaccination Do?

Interviewer: All right. So let's talk about some of the common misconceptions. And I think one of the main ones is that they're afraid that they give their boys or girls that are 11 or 12 a vaccine that prevents not only cancer but a sexually transmitted disease that now, all of the sudden, their kids are going to become more sexually active.

Deanna: Yeah and that is just not true. It's just a myth. And it's been disproven by a lot of research that's been shown that even if you vaccinate kids at a younger age with the HP vaccine and then you take others and you don't vaccinate them and you randomize the groups, the kids that received the vaccines aren't any more likely to engage in sexual activity at an earlier age than the ones who did receive the vaccine.

Interviewer: All right. And for a lot of parents, it seems to be some sort of an ego thing almost, like my child's not going to do that. That seems to be a big barrier. They have a hard time getting past that.

Deanna: Well, I mean, we give our kids . . . we have no problems giving our kids the Hepatitis B vaccine as babies, do we? And that's a sexually transmitted infection. I'm thinking that when you're talking about a sexually transmitted infection, your child is age 11 and 12, parents start to get really, I don't know, cold feet, a little queasy because puberty is right around the corner or right there. And I think that sense of anxiety around that time in their child's life just makes them turn off and shut down instead of thinking about this vaccine as a cancer prevention vaccine.

Interviewer: You did a much better job of putting it than I did. Thank you. So another one of the misconceptions is a lot of people think it's a new vaccine, so there's not a lot of history out there of side effects. That's not true either.

Deanna: It's been around for more than 10 years. We have hundreds of thousands, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of doses have been given in the United States. And the CDC does an excellent job collecting adverse responses to vaccinations in our country, reports of adverse responses, and this vaccine doesn't have any higher rates of adverse reactions than any other immunizations that we give our children in our country.

Interviewer: And then there's another misconception that it's just a girl's vaccination.

Deanna: And again, that's not true. There are a number of cancers that only affect boys or men. There's HV related penile cancer. HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer affects both girls and boys or men and women, because it does affect people when they're in their older years, 50s and 60s, but it has a higher incidence in men. Meaning that more man than women have HP oropharyngeal cancer than women. So when you give your son the HP vaccine, you're not only protecting transmission to women, but you're also protecting your son from HP-related cancers, including anal cancer, penile cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and genital warts.

Interviewer: And there's also a really good reason to get it at a young age. Tell me about how that actually helps develop stronger protection.

HPV Immunization Project

Deanna: Right. Studies have shown that your immune system is stronger at those younger ages, 11 and 12. You're more likely to develop a stronger immune response, and we have data to prove it. And that's why we have the recent CDC recommendations out now where if you get the vaccine under age 15, good news parents, you only need to get two doses now because two doses is strong enough. If you get it at ages 15 and older, you need three doses.

Interviewer: All right. And here in Utah, there is some additional challenges for the HP vaccine. Explain what those are.

Deanna: I know, it's so sad to me because we have . . . I work at Huntsman Cancer Institute, we have this cancer prevention vaccine, and this has been my passion for the last 10 years, and when the data came out, way about a year ago, we were state number 49 for girls.

Interviewer: Not in a good way.

Deanna: Not in a good way. We had one state doing a little bit worse than us, and that's Wyoming, our neighbor. So I'm working with them too. And this means that we have less than half of our girls getting this HPV vaccine in the state of Utah. So we've a lot of room for improvement here.

Interviewer: Any final thoughts or anything that I forgot to mention when it comes to misconceptions of people have about the HP vaccination and why they should get it?

Deanna: I think we all need to think about friends and family members that we know who have struggled with cancer, who've fought against cancer, people that have lived with cancer, battled cancer, died from cancer. If you ask any of them if they could've prevented their cancer with the vaccine at ages 11 and 12, they would've said yes and gotten that vaccine. So please do that for your child.

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updated: May 1, 2018
originally published: June 13, 2017