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What Parents Should Know About the HPV, or Cervical Cancer, Vaccine

Does your daughter need the HPV vaccine to help protect against cervical cancer? Get the latest medical information on the HPV vaccine here.

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Why Should Girls Receive the HPV Vaccine?

Full benefit of the HPV vaccine occurs only if you receive it before you're infected with any of the HPV strains included in the vaccine. That's why the CDC recommends vaccinating girls between ages 11 and 12. Ideally, this is before they become sexually active. The HPV vaccine can also be given to girls as young as 9 and to girls from age 13 to 26 who have not received it earlier.

You may question whether 11 or 12 is too early to vaccinate. Your daughter may not become sexually active for several more years. Some pediatricians counter that vaccinating preteens helps to take the guesswork out of figuring out when your daughter has become sexually active. The vaccine also has been shown to be more effective in immunizing against HPV when it is given to younger girls who have never been infected with the dangerous HPV strains.

How Is the HPV Vaccine Given?

The HPV vaccine is given in three injections over a six-month period. So far, scientists know that the vaccine is effective for at least five years. It shows no decreasing immunity during that time. Protection may last even longer. Researchers are still studying long-term effectiveness and whether a booster vaccine will be needed.

What Concerns Do Parents Have about the HPV Vaccine?

What are some objections to the vaccine? Here are some concerns you may have, along with responses to these concerns.

  • The HPV vaccine does not have a long track record of safety and effectiveness. Over time, unintended problems may emerge.

Researchers have tested the vaccines in more than 11,000 females, ages 9 to 26, around the world. They've concluded that the vaccines are safe and cause no serious side effects. The FDA has reviewed the studies and agrees. The main side effect of the HPV vaccine was mild pain at the injection site. The vaccine contains no mercury or thimerosal.

  • Many states now require the vaccine for middle-school girls, which may infringe on parental rights.

If states do make the HPV vaccine mandatory, you may have a choice to opt out by reading the vaccine literature and signing a form.

  • The vaccine may give girls a false sense of security, or it may subtly encourage sexual activity.

You can explain that the HPV vaccine is a cervical cancer vaccine. It only protects against some types of HPV that lead to cancer. It offers no protection against HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).

You can also discuss factors that increase or decrease risk of HPV infection. According to the American Cancer Society, these factors increase HPV risk:

  • Having sex at an early age.
  • Having many sexual partners.
  • Having a partner who has had many sexual partners.

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