When it was first introduced 13 years ago, the HPV vaccine represented a major step forward in the prevention of cervical cancer and other types of cancer linked to the human papillomavirus. Today, the vaccine has been approved for use in more than 120 countries worldwide, and those countries with high vaccination rates have seen their HPV infection rates decline in the years since the vaccine became available.
If you are considering HPV vaccination for your daughter or son, here are five important facts every parent should know about the human papillomavirus and the HPV vaccine.
1. HPV is a common virus and a potentially serious health threat.
The HPV virus is the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among women as well as men. Nearly everyone who is sexually active will get at least one HPV infection during their lifetime.
Most people aren’t aware that they have been infected because the virus typically produces no noticeable symptoms, at least early on. There are many types or strains of the human papillomavirus, the majority of which don’t pose a health threat and usually clear up on their own without any medical treatment.
About 70% of HPV infections clear the body with one year, and fully 90% clear the body with two years. The approximately 10% of infections that don’t clear the body can persist and progress to certain types of cancer. HPV is associated with nearly all cases of cervical cancers, anal cancers and genital warts, about 70% of all oropharyngeal, vaginal and vulvar cancer cases, and around 60% of all penile cancers.
2. The HPV virus is transmitted mainly through sexual contact.
The HPV virus is usually spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. HPV can be passed from an infected person even if they have no signs or symptoms, making it quite common for an infected person to unknowingly spread the virus. Using condoms and following other safer sex practices can help reduce the risk of HPV infection.
3. Two HPV vaccine types are available in Thailand.
There are currently two HPV vaccines approved for use in Thailand; one offers protection against two HPV strains, while the other protects against four strains.
The vaccine marketed under the name Cervarix offers protection against diseases caused by the HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains. These are considered the two most dangerous HPV types; together they account for roughly 70% of all cervical cancer cases. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are also responsible for most cases of HPV-induced genital, head and neck cancers.
Like Cervarix, the Gardasil vaccine also protects against HPV 16 and HPV 18, but it also offers additional protection against HPV 6 and HPV 11, which cause about 90% of all genital warts. A newer version of the Gardasil vaccine, Gardasil 9, which offers protection against five additional HPV strains, is currently in the process of being registered for distribution in Thailand.
4. The HPV vaccine is safe, and potential side effects are minimal.
HPV vaccination has enjoyed an excellent safety record spanning more than a decade. As with most vaccinations, HPV vaccine side effects may occur in a small percentage of cases. The most common side effects are usually mild and temporary, and may include:
- Pain, swelling, redness of the skin
- Itchiness, bruising, and/or a lump at the injection site
- Headache, fever
- Nausea, dizziness
Allergic reactions and severe side effects are extremely rare. However, patients with the following conditions are usually advised not to receive the HPV vaccine:
5. Girls and boys should be vaccinated around age 11 or 12.
- Patients allergic to any component of the vaccine, including being allergic to yeast
- Children who are feverish or ill at the time of planned vaccination
- Pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant within six months.
The HPV vaccine is generally recommended for girls and boys aged 11 or 12 who are not yet sexually active, although the vaccine may be given to children as young as nine. A two-dose regimen spaced at least six months apart is now the typical recommended dosage for children aged 11 and 12. For teens and young adults ages 15 through 26, doctors usually recommend a three-dose series.
Given the complex nature of the HPV vaccine, it is natural for parents to have questions about whether their child is a good candidate for vaccination. Your pediatrician is in the best possible position to help answer any questions you may have and recommend the best course of action for the health of your child.