You don’t have to look far to find conflicting information on the news, the Internet and from family and friends. The vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus (HPV), and girls aren’t the only ones at risk. HPV causes genital warts in males and females, and can result in cervical cancer and cancers in other areas, including the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and throat. The HPV vaccine can protect against as much as 90 percent of cervical cancers. Does your child need it or not? Here are some common myths about HPV and the vaccine, and what you need to know.
Myth: Boys don’t need the vaccine
Truth: Yes, they do. Both boys and girls can get HPV from sexual contact, including sexual intercourse and oral sex. Most people with HPV don’t know they have it because they don’t notice any symptoms. This means both males and females with HPV can pass it on to others without knowing it. Males need the vaccine just as much as females in order to keep themselves and their sexual partners safe from HPV.
Myth: My child is not sexually active, so she doesn’t need the vaccine.
Truth: The vaccine works by protecting the body from the virus before it comes in contact with the virus. It does not protect against a virus that is already in the body. Therefore, it’s recommended that girls and boys be vaccinated before they become sexually active. Current recommendations are for youth to get vaccinated at age 11 or 12. If that does not happen, then any age up to age 26 will still offer some protection. Since kids are becoming sexually active at an earlier age — more than 40 percent of high school age kids have had sex — it’s best to stick with the age recommendation of 11 or 12 years old.
Myth: My child had one HPV vaccine. She’s covered.
Truth: The HPV vaccine is a three-shot series over a period of six months. It works best when you get all three shots on schedule. Researchers don’t yet know how much protection it offers in only one or two doses. If you missed a shot and more than six months has passed, you can still catch up to improve your protection. The bottom line is cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Don’t take a risk of not being protected — get all three shots on schedule.
Myth: I had the vaccine, so I’m protected against sexually transmitted diseases.
Truth: The vaccine protects against nine strains of HPV — and HPV only. It does not protect against the more than 20 different types of STDs out there. Anyone who is sexually active should use condoms to protect against other STDs and have routine checkups with a doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor:
Does my child have any allergies or health issues that would cause a reaction to the vaccine?
Which HPV vaccine is best for my child?