Learn the Facts About HPV Vaccination

Nearly 14 years after the HPV vaccine was introduced, most children still aren't receiving the recommended dosage, increasing the diagnoses of many cancers that may otherwise have been prevented.

HPV (human papillomavirus) causes several types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oropharynx, anal and penile varieties. Research shows that HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of each of these cancers — particularly cervical cancer, 90% of which is caused by the virus.

Read on as Electra Paskett, PhD, MSPH, associate director for population sciences at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), shares information about HPV and its effects on cancer risk, and explains why it's so important that all kids receive the complete vaccine series.

How HPV is spread

"HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is contracted through sexual relations, though some studies have found that it can be transmitted into the mouth by deep kissing, or even perhaps by passing items like cups and bottles."

How HPV vaccine works

"There are certain types of HPV that cause cancer. The types that stay in the body are the most deleterious and can actually integrate into a cell's DNA. Our immune systems are good at clearing a lot of types of HPV, and the vaccine comes into play by allowing our bodies to build up responses to some of the longer-lasting types of cancer-causing HPV before we are ever exposed to the virus. For so many years, the public has been asking for a vaccine to prevent cancer. We've had this vaccine since June 2006. Of course, we can't have just one vaccine to prevent all types of cancer, but we've started with the HPV vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer and probably a few others."

When to vaccinate

"The recommendation is that children — both girls and boys — be vaccinated starting at age nine. Children vaccinated before age 15 need only two shots, six months apart. If they're vaccinated at 15 or older, up to age 26, they need three shots. Recently, the Advisory Committee on Vaccinations approved the vaccine also for adults up to age 45. So, parents might start thinking about protecting their entire family from this cancer!"

Why young kids should be vaccinated

"A lot of people ask, ‘Why do you need to vaccinate a child who isn't sexually active?' No. 1: We need to vaccinate them before any exposure occurs. No. 2: Studies have shown that the immune system can mount a greater response when the vaccine has been given to a younger child. We still see lasting protection in those who were vaccinated at young ages, meaning we don't see a significant decrease that would suggest the need for boosters."

The vaccine is safe

"The CDC follows vaccinations across the United States and has found no greater severe, adverse effects associated with the HPV vaccine series than with the other childhood immunizations given in the same age range."

Missed opportunities

"In 2018, 89% of 13- to 17-year-olds had received the Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine), and 87% had gotten the meningococcal vaccine, but only 54% of females and 49% of males had received all HPV vaccine doses required (1). Science has established that, to develop herd immunity — which means having enough vaccinated people in a population to, for the most part, eradicate a disease — you need to be at 80% vaccination."

Stop the stigma

"There are a lot of myths about the HPV vaccine. When it first came out, it was politicized and linked to sexual promiscuity — and unfortunately, throughout history, cervical cancer itself was linked to promiscuity. Some parents think that if their kids are vaccinated, they will have a green light to have sex. That is not the intent, and we need to get that off the table. The HPV vaccine is not about sex; it's about cancer prevention."

A major need

"Seventy-nine million Americans are infected with HPV, and about 14 million become newly infected each year. Approximately 80% of adults will contract some type of HPV during their lifetimes. Now, adults older than 26 can also get the HPV vaccination."

To learn more about HPV-related research at the OSUCCC — James, visit cancer.osu.edu.

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