The HPV vaccine: Myths and Truths

You don’t have to look far to find conflicting information on the news, the internet and from family and friends. The HPV vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, and girls aren’t the only ones at risk.

You don’t have to look far to find conflicting information on the news, the Internet and from family and friends. The HPV vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), and both girls and boys are 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% of cervical cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Does your child need it? 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 HPV. 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 HPV vaccinations at age 11 or 12. If that does not happen, then any age up to age 26 still will offer some protection. Since kids are becoming sexually active at an earlier age — more than 40% of high school-aged 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 best way to p​revent HPV is to get the HPV vaccine which c​omes in a series of two or three doses, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The CDC recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine for all children at ages 11 to 12; the vaccine can be given as early as age 9. If you wait until the child is older, three doses may be needed instead of two.

Children who start the vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday need three shots given over six months. If your teen hasn’t had the vaccine yet, talk to your pediatrician or family physician about getting it as soon as possible.

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If your child missed a shot and more than six months has passed, you still can catch up to improve protection. Don’t take the risk of not being protected — getting the vaccinations on schedule can be the best defense.

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 sexually transmitted diseases (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?