A Parent Perspective on Preventing HPV
Jan 04, 2012

By Amy Pisani

Recently, my eleven year old son had an appointment for his annual well-visit with his pediatrician.  I strongly believe that these routine visits are one of the most important tasks we, as parents, undertake to ensure that our children are developing properly. 
As I accompanied him on this visit, I couldn’t help but recall my first post-delivery visit to the pediatrician when he was just a precious little baby.  After the full work up, the doctor answered our innumerable questions about caring for our newborn.  But what remains so vivid in my mind is when he stuck out his hand and offered me a hardy congratulation for a job well done.  Self centered as that memory may be, it was the first time someone other than my husband had given me credit for nurturing this tiny human as he grew from an embryo into a ten-fingered, ten-toed, healthy breastfed baby.  It was then that I realized the enormity of being a parent – that my husband and I were completely responsible for the future health and well-being of this child.
As the days and months flew by we visited the pediatrician regularly for his well-baby checkups, which of course included essential vaccinations against dangerous diseases.  Unfortunately, this was before the influenza vaccine was universally recommended and our son had to be hospitalized twice by the time he turned two for complications from bouts of influenza.  We learned how rapidly an infant can succumb to what many people still consider a common and less dangerous disease.  Fortunately he overcame each illness, as well as dozens of other common viruses and respiratory infections over the years.
Now in our twelfth year of parenting I look at this boy, who will undoubtedly surpass me in height within the year, and I recognize that we still have a long road of parenting ahead.    As we teach him right from wrong and lay down the rules of our home, we seek to raise a healthy, wise and well rounded individual who will grow into a happy adult who can contribute to our society in a positive manner.
As his mother, it is difficult to accept that my son is on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and I can only hope that we have set him on a course that will permit him to achieve his greatest dreams.  But what is more difficult to accept is that someday in the future (hopefully the distant future) he will become sexually active.  And so, we must prepare him for this eventuality by protecting him as best we can from diseases such as Herpes, HIV and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).  Certainly we will teach our son about the need for diligent personal prevention through the use of condoms.  However, with the availability of a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HPV for both our son and his future sexual partner(s), we feel it is also our responsibility to protect him through vaccination as well.  And so, as we sat in the treatment room awaiting the nurse with the HPV vaccine (as well as the meningitis vaccine), I faced that awkward moment of explaining to my pre-teen the purpose of this immunization.  (In comparison, the meningitis explanation was a cakewalk.)  It was not a moment I had anticipated all those years ago, but it immediately brought me back to that day when I held my newborn child in my arms and accepted my pediatrician’s hearty congratulations for a job well done.  It was a matter of responsibility and doing my best to protect my child.

Today, the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia unveiled a fantastic new website that seeks to educate families about the critical importance of vaccinating both males and females against HPV.  According to the data presented on the site,

“every year in the United States about 10,000 women develop cervical cancer (which is solely caused by HPV) and 4,000 die from the disease. These women are wives, moms, daughters, sisters and friends. HPV has also been linked to genital warts, anal, penile and throat cancers in men. Each year about one-third of cancers caused by HPV occur in males. These men are husbands, dads, sons, brothers and friends.”

Overcoming the melancholy that accompanies the moments when we realize our children will one day become sexually active is certainly not easy.  However, as a vaccine advocate who has met several women who’ve suffered with cervical cancer, the choice to protect my son, and eventually his little brother and their future partners, was clear-cut.  While my pediatrician’s congratulatory handshake may be a distant memory, I felt proud as a peacock as the nurse placed that band aid on my son’s vaccinated arm that day.

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