Q. My 13-year old daughter was offered the HPV vaccine last year, but I’m concerned about its safety and question whether she should have the vaccine at such a young age.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are 6 million new cases of HPV per year. Of these cases, 75 percent occur in people between the ages of 15-24. The majority of cases are asymptomatic and resolve on their own; however, cervical cancer is responsible for 3,900 deaths in the United States per year.
There are several different strains of HPV that can be stratified into low-risk and high-risk categories. The high-risk strains cause cervical cancer and precancerous lesions of the cervix. Low-risk strains are responsible for anogenital warts and juvenile respiratory papillomatosis.
Currently, there are two vaccines available to protect against HPV. Gardasil protects against four types of HPV and is approved for females ages 9-26 years of age. These four strains are responsible for about 75 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts cases. Gardasil is also approved for the prevention of genital warts in males.
The other strain, Cervarix, protects against two strains of HPV and is approved for prevention of cervical cancer in female patients.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommends routine immunization of girls for cervical cancer at age 11 or 12. This may seem young, but studies report that HPV is a problem for 25 percent of American girls ages 14-19 years.
To prevent HPV infection, immunization needs to take place prior to infection. In other words, vaccinating early is important to provide maximum protection against HPV.
According to the FDA, HPV immunizations are safe. Gardasil injection has been linked to syncope, or fainting, within 15 minutes following the injection. Fainting can also be observed with blood draws or other injections in this age group and may not be specific to Gardasil.
For more information, go to www.cdc.gov or see your child’s healthcare provider.