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Ask the Doctor: Dr. Kendra Baker, D.O. and Dr. Kristy Tolly, M.D.

Q. What are the benefits of the HPV vaccine and why should children and adults receive it?

A. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. With approximately 79 million people affected and 14 million new cases annually, it’s crucial to raise awareness that HPV is something that can be prevented with a vaccine.

In the U.S., 43% of adult women and men ages 18-59 are infected, and HPV cancer-related illnesses continue to increase. Although there is a decrease in cervical and vaginal cancer, there is an increase in head and neck cancer and anal cancer, making it more important for people to receive the HPV vaccine.

Recently, the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved the use of the HPV vaccination series for men and women ages 27 to 45. Previously, it was only recommended for ages 9 to 26.

The vaccine is most effective when administered prior to the initiation of sexual activity and is recommended for adolescents ages 11 and up. If your child is between 11-12 years of age, he/she will receive a two-dose series six months apart. If your child is age 15 or older, it becomes a three-dose series given within a six-month period. Even if your child is not at immediate risk, it is important to vaccinate early to prevent them from being at risk later in life. There is also no evidence that vaccinating your child or providing education about the vaccine causes any changes in adolescent behavior.

The vaccine became available in 2006 and has been demonstrated to be both safe and effective within the U.S. It is made from one protein from the virus and cannot cause you to become infected with HPV or cancer. Most common side effects after the vaccine include mild pain, redness or swelling where the vaccine is given. Adolescents who receive any vaccine, including HPV, are more prone to fainting and should sit or lie down for approximately 15 minutes after a vaccine as a preventative measure.

While the vaccine is most effective when administered prior to the initiation of sexual activity, there are often circumstances where receiving the vaccine in adulthood is appropriate, and the vaccine is now approved for adults up to age 45. Even if a person has had an abnormal pap smear, a history of genital warts, or been positive for HPV, the vaccine may still protect them against strains they have not been exposed to.

The vaccine protects against seven of the most common strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer and two strains that can cause genital warts. Long-term studies have shown that the vaccine significantly reduces the frequency of genital warts and has the potential to prevent more than 90% of cervical and other HPV-associated cancers.

If you have questions about the vaccine, please consult your child’s pediatrician or your physician.

Kendra Baker, D.O., specializes in Obstetrics/Gynecology and Kristy Tolly, M.D., specializes in pediatrics.