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Prevention

HPV Vaccine Proven in Fight Against Cancer

child vaccination by male physician

Since 2020, while the world followed the impact of the COVID-19 vaccines, a different vaccine was quietly providing levels of immunity that kept pediatricians abuzz. Pediatrician Elizabeth Dieckman, MD, Northeast Medical Group, Hamden, and Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, said the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is so exciting because it is one of the very few things that can prevent cancer.

"We know this is a safe and effective vaccine," Dr. Dieckman said. “It’s been around in some form since 2006. It had years of study before its approval and has been monitored in the years since.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. More than 42 million people in the U.S. are currently infected and 13 million more become infected each year. It is estimated that nearly everyone will become infected at some point.

While most HPV infections do not lead to serious health problems, Dr. Dieckman said some cause cancer in men and women. The CDC reports 36,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. are caused by HPV every year.

“The vaccine can prevent over 90 percent of the cancers caused by HPV,” she added. “That’s why it’s such an important tool for us.”

The HPV vaccine is approved for use in children as young as 9, but Dr. Dieckman said it’s more common to begin talking about it with families of 11- and 12-year-olds. The current vaccine is administered via a two-dose series for children under the age of 15. The second shot is delivered six to 12 months after the initial dose. Dr. Dieckman explained that children who are 15 or older require a three-dose series to receive the same level of protection.

“The goal is to get kids vaccinated before they’re exposed to the virus,” she said. “Sometimes parents are concerned when we bring it up because we’re talking about a virus that is spread sexually. We’re clear that we’re not assuming their child is sexually active, and we’re not giving them permission to begin having sex. Because we know the vaccine only works if you have not been exposed to the virus, it’s important to administer it before adolescents become sexually active.”

Gregory Germain, MD, associate chief, Pediatrics, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, and associate clinical professor, Pediatrics, Yale School of Medicine, explained that the HPV vaccine is often given at the same time as their first meningitis vaccine, sometimes referred to as the college meningitis vaccine, when kids are 11 - 12 years old.

“Many parents will hear about the HPV vaccine and ask to delay it saying, ‘My child is a long way off from being sexually active,’” he said. “But no parent ever has said to me, ‘Let's hold off on the college meningitis vaccine because my child is a long way off from going to college.’ Prevention is key, and that involves immunizing well ahead of college and, in the case of HPV, well ahead of sexual activity.”

Dr. Diekman’s advice is to speak with your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about HPV or the vaccine. If you need to find a doctor, visit NortheastMedicalGroup.org.