HPV vaccination

It’s the best way to prevent many types of cancer

Vaccines are among the few medical interventions that can virtually eliminate a disease. HPV (short for human papillomavirus) vaccination is the answer for many types of cancer.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with high-risk types of HPV, and the virus also is linked to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis and throat. HPV vaccinations prevents infection of virus types that cause the clear majority of these cancers and genital warts, but the vaccine works only if given well before an infection occurs. The vaccine is most effective when given before age 13 to achieve the best immune response, and most complete coverage against cancer-causing strains of HPV. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at 11 or 12.

HPV infections are very common, 79 million (one in every four) people in the US are infected with HPV and 14 million people in the US will become infected with HPV every year. About half of these infections occur between the ages of 15-24 years. Fifty percent to 80 percent of men and women in the U.S. will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime and the American Cancer Society reports that one person is diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV in the US every 20 minutes.

Despite the power of HPV vaccinations to prevent cancer, only one in three girls and one in five boys in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, far less than the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80 percent. Vaccination rates are lowest where cervical cancer rates are highest.

In Iowa, only 21 percent of adolescents aged 13-15 have received the three doses of HPV vaccine recommended for full protection. In comparison, 80 percent of 13-15-year-olds in Iowa have received the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Dr. Kelli Wallace, Webster County Health Department medical director, recommends HPV vaccinations to be given at age 11 or 12 for both girls and boys.

“These types of HPV-related cancers are preventable. Unfortunately, rates of several of these cancers are increasing and the HPV vaccination is underutilized despite the overwhelming evidence for its safety and effectiveness. HPV vaccine is important because it prevents infections that can cause cancer,” she said. “Underuse of HPV vaccines are a serious but correctible threat to progress against cancer.”

Two shots are enough for most young patients getting HPV vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its recommendation for the HPV vaccination for ages 9 through 14. Children in that age group can now get just two shots instead of three. The shots can be given at least six months apart. The CDC continues to recommend that most children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12.

Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., senior director, HPV Related and Women’s Cancers, said the new recommendation will make it easier for people to get protection from HPV.

“It’s a burden on parents to get teenagers to the provider’s office. The new recommendations not only cut down on repeated trips, but also spread out the recommended interval. This adds the flexibility that allows the second shot to be given at a time when the child will already be at the provider’s office for something else — an annual checkup, a sports physical, or even something like a strep test,” she said.

“HPV vaccination is very safe. Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects, including pain, swelling or redness where the shot was given. That’s normal for HPV vaccine too and should go away in a day or two. There has been more than eight years of safety monitoring in the US and worldwide. More than 200 million doses of vaccine have been distributed worldwide, with more than 67 million doses in the US. No serious safety concerns have been identified,” said Wallace.

ACS, CDC, WCHD and all major provider organizations recommend HPV vaccination. Vaccine costs are covered by Affordable Care Act, major insurers, Medicaid and the federal Vaccine for Children Program, which provides free vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children and adolescents. For more information regarding vaccinating your child contact the Webster County Health Department at 573-4107.

The American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are committed to addressing the unequal burden of cancer, including access to treatment and affordable cancer treatment. ACS is a global grassroots force of two million volunteers saving lives in every community. We’re finding cures as the nation’s largest private, not-for-profit investor in cancer research, ensuring people facing cancer have the help they need and continuing the fight for access to quality health care, lifesaving screenings and cancer prevention. For more information, to get help, or to join the fight, call us anytime, day or night, at (800) 227-2345 or visit cancer.org.

Join the movement to fight cancer at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Webster City on June 17 at the City Square, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Liddy Hora is health system manager with the American Cancer Society. She can be reached at liddy.hora@cancer.org.

New 2-dose HPV Vaccination recommendations

• The first HPV vaccine dose is routinely recommended at 11-12 years old. The second dose of the vaccine should be given 6 to 12 months after the first dose.

• Teens and young adults who start getting the vaccination at ages 15 through 26 years will continue to need 3 doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infections.

• Children and teens ages 9 through 14 who have already received 2 doses of HPV vaccine less than 6 months apart, will require a third dose.

• Three doses are recommended for people with weakened immune systems aged 9-26 years.