Why Early HPV Vaccination is Beneficial
Since the human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted from one person to another through sexual activity, many parents question why the CDC recommends the vaccine be administered to boys and girls as young as 11 or 12 years of age. HPV vaccination is critical if we are to prevent the 27,000 cases of anal, mouth/throat, penile, cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancers that are diagnosed each year in the U.S. However, since some parents have difficulty acknowledging that their teenage children may be engaging in activity that puts them at risk of HPV, they’re often reluctant to vaccinate at the recommended age.
If you’re a parent who is questioning whether your preteen child should get the HPV vaccine, it’s important to realize the benefits of vaccinating at an early age.
The vaccine works best prior to exposure to the HPV virus.
The fact is that almost all sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. While most of these infections go undetected and may even clear up on their own, we know that one in four people in the U.S. are currently infected and that initial infection typically occurs in the teens or early 20s.
While most parents are hopeful that their teenagers will refrain from sexual activity until later in life, research tells us otherwise. The data suggests that 5% of 12-year-olds, 10% of 13-year-olds and 20% of 14-year-olds are sexually active. And the likelihood of sex continues to escalate with each school grade level with 32% of 9th grade students to 62% of 12th grade students. And since HPV can be transmitted through oral sex as well, it’s important to note that as many as 51% of 15-24 year-olds are having oral sex before they have their first sexual intercourse.
Since it’s entirely possible to get HPV the very first time that a person has sexual contact with another person, the question we must ask ourselves is why should we wait until a child is sexually active to offer vaccination? As we can see by the data, even a child as young as 12 years old can be at risk. Even if a child should abstain from sex until marriage, there is no guarantee that their partner did the same, and they can still contract HPV that may one day lead to cancer. However, if a child should complete the three dose series of HPV vaccination before they begin any type of sexual activity, then they’ll be better protected if they get exposed to the virus, at whatever age that may be.
The HPV vaccine produces a higher immune response in preteens than it does in older teens and young women.
Results from studies of HPV vaccination indicate that over 99% of vaccinated women developed antibodies after vaccination. But it’s also important to note that antibody titers were higher in the younger populations. Girls who were 9- 15 years old when vaccinated seem to generate a better immune response to the vaccine as compared to those who were 16-26 years old. This just reinforces the fact that the vaccine is best when administered at a young age.
A new study shows that early vaccination reduces the risk of cervical dysplasia among young women.
In a recent study published in Pediatrics, researchers from Canada found that girls who received the HPV vaccine at an earlier age were also less likely to suffer with cervical dysplasia and genital warts, both of which are caused by HPV. This study was conducted on 260,493 girls, half of which were eligible for Ontario’s publicly funded HPV vaccination program. Vaccination occurred in 8th and 9th grade and then both the vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals were tracked through 10th, 11th and 12th grade to see whether they were diagnosed with cervical dysplasia or genital warts.
What researchers discovered was that of the 2,436 cases of cervical dysplasia that were recorded between Grades 10 to 12, 44% fewer cases were found to occur in the girls who had received the vaccine. This translated into 5.7 fewer cases of cervical dysplasia and 0.34 fewer cases of genital warts for every 1,000 girls vaccinated.
There is plenty of research that indicates that the benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh the risks. The United States has already witnessed a reduction in HPV prevalence among those who have been vaccinated and there is a great amount of research on the safety of the vaccine. So there really is no reason not to vaccinate early to protect our children while we still have the chance.
Listen to what this mother and cervical cancer survivor has to say about the HPV vaccination for her son and daughter. After her own personal battles with cancer and a hysterectomy she explains why she will be getting her children the HPV vaccine series as soon as they turn 11.
For more information on HPV check out these resources:
For clinicians who would like to learn more about how to “Partner for Prevention”:
As the CDC continues to work closely with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), join the Adolescent Immunization Communications Team on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 11:00AM ET for a special webinar that will feature the following experts:
- Rebecca B. Perkins, MD, MSc, FACOG will highlight the importance of this effort from her perspective as an Ob-Gyn, including an overview of why HPV vaccination is a critical cancer prevention tool.
- Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH, FAAP will provide tips for successful recommendations focusing on how clinicians in pediatrics can increase acceptance and uptake of HPV vaccine.
- Jill Roark, MPH, Health Communication Specialist, CDC/NCIRD will introduce the three key pillars of the HPV Vaccine is Cancer Prevention clinician engagement effort and share information about new tools and resources available through CDC.
To register, please visit: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1172511869177180418.