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HPV: Should My Child Get the Vaccine?

HPV: Should My Child Get the Vaccine?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

HPV: Should My Child Get the Vaccine?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have your child get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV ( human papillomavirus ) that cause cervical cancer . Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts . There are other types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts, but these four types are some of the most common.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other expert groups recommend that boys and girls age 11 or 12 get the HPV vaccine. It can be given starting at age 9. It's also recommended for those 13 to 26 years old who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger.
  • The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.
  • The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV. When the vaccine is given at this time, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.
  • The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.
FAQs

How do you get HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus . You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. Infection with HPV is common, especially among young people. Half of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV. 1 But most people never know they have the virus, because it may not cause any symptoms.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. But only some types of HPV lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

  • Cervical cancer happens when HPV causes abnormal cells in the cervix to grow out of control. HPV can stay in your body for a long time. It can take 10 years or more for a woman to get cancer from an HPV infection. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.
  • Genital warts (skin growths) may or may not cause symptoms. Even if you treat visible warts, or if the warts go away without treatment, the HPV infection can stay in the body's cells. It's possible to spread genital warts to a sex partner even if you can't see the warts.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccines can help protect people from being infected with some of the most common types of the virus. The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect girls and young women against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer . Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts .

Females may use either Cervarix or Gardasil. Males may use Gardasil.

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For the vaccine to work best, all three shots must be given.

The vaccine doesn't treat an HPV infection. But it may protect a person against types of the HPV virus other than the one causing the infection.

Health insurance may cover all or part of the cost of the vaccine. But if you don't have health insurance, check with your local health department, clinic, or hospital. Girls and boys 18 or younger can get the HPV vaccine for a low cost or even for free through the Vaccines for Children program.

When should your child get the HPV vaccine?

It is recommended for children age 11 or 12 but can be given as early as age 9. For girls who have not already gotten the vaccine, it is recommended up to age 26. For boys who have not already gotten the shot, the vaccine is recommended up to age 21.

The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV. When the vaccine is given at this time, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against. 2

What are the benefits of the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine can reduce the risk of your child getting genital warts or cervical cancer caused by some of the most common types of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine also protects against anogenital cancers. Research is under way to see if the vaccine can be used to prevent oral cancers also. 3

The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

The vaccine series protects against the two or four types of HPV for at least 5 years. Studies are under way to see how long the vaccine will last and if a booster shot is needed. A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine that is given after the first series of shots.

What are the risks of the HPV vaccine?

Some people may have mild side effects such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. But neither lasts long. The doctor may have you stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the shot is given, to watch for any reactions.

How can you talk to your child about the HPV vaccine?

Some parents may worry about talking to their young child about the HPV vaccine, because they think it means they have to have the "sex talk." But you don't have to talk to your child about sex if you're not ready. Your child may get other vaccines when he or she is 11 and 12, such as a meningitis shot or a tetanus booster shot. You may want to start the HPV vaccine series when he or she receives these other shots. You can tell your child that these vaccines can help keep him or her healthy and prevent cancer and other illnesses later in life.

If you do decide to talk to your child about HPV and the vaccine, it doesn't mean you're giving your child permission to have sex. It's a chance to teach your child about safer sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . This information will be important for when he or she is older and making choices about sex.

Will your daughter need Pap tests after she gets the HPV vaccine?

Even though the HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, your daughter will need to get regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer. This is because there are some types of HPV that the vaccine doesn't prevent. Pap tests look for cells that may be, or can lead to, cervical cancer. If these cells are found early and treated, you may prevent cervical cancer. Experts recommend that women start having Pap tests at age 21.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Have your child get the HPV vaccine Have your child get the HPV vaccine
  • Your child gets three shots over 6 months.
  • The vaccine can reduce the risk of your child getting genital warts. And it protects women from getting cervical cancer.
  • Possible side effects include a low-grade fever and soreness where the shot was given.
Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine
  • You may decide to wait until:
    • Your child is older before he or she gets the HPV vaccine.
    • More information is available about how well the vaccine works.
  • You can talk to your child about HPV and about how he or she might prevent infection.
  • Your child avoids possible side effects of the vaccine.
  • You don't have to take time for your child to get the shots.
  • When your child becomes sexually active, he or she will be more likely to get HPV.
  • If your child does get HPV, he or she will have a greater chance of getting genital warts. And your daughter will have less protection from cervical cancer.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about the HPV vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I want my son to be protected against HPV, but I was worried about how to talk to him about this vaccine. I didn't want to talk to him about sex or STIs, because he seemed too young. Then the nurse at the doctor's office said my son needed to have other vaccines and we could start them all at the same time. I told Lou that all of these shots would help keep him from getting sick both now and when he is older.

Carmen, mom of 10-year-old Lou

My daughter is away at her first year of college. We talked about safer sex before she left for school and I trust that she will make smart choices. When I told her about the vaccine, she told me she isn't having sex yet and doesn't want to get the vaccine. At this point, all I can do is give her the information and hope she gets the vaccine when she is ready.

Rhonda, mom of 19-year-old Simone

It's just me and Owen at home. I wasn't sure I could answer all of his questions about sex, so we are taking a sex education class together. Talking to him about a vaccine to prevent an STI in the future is a good way for us to start talking about safer sex.

Brad, dad of 12-year-old Owen

My daughter is young, and the HPV vaccine is pretty new. I want her to be protected, but I decided to wait and make this decision when she is a few years older.

Janice, mom of 9-year-old Courtney

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have your child get the HPV vaccine

Reasons not to have your child get the HPV vaccine

From what I've heard about the vaccine, I believe it's safe for my child to get it.

I'm concerned about side effects from the vaccine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to protect my child from getting genital warts and cervical cancer.

I'm not worried about my child getting genital warts or cervical cancer.

More important
Equally important
More important

My child knows that getting the vaccine doesn't mean permission to have sex.

I'm worried that my child may think that it's okay to have sex because he or she got the vaccine.

More important
Equally important
More important

My child doesn't mind getting shots.

My child hates getting shots.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having my child get the HPV vaccine

NOT having my child get the HPV vaccine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

The best time for my child to get the HPV vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active.

  • True That's right. The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV.
  • False Sorry, that's not right. The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active.
2.

My child will need to get three shots of the HPV vaccine.

  • True That's right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.
  • False Sorry, that's not right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.
3.

The HPV vaccine will protect my child from getting some of the most common types of HPV.

  • True That's right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • False Sorry, that's not right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision  

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts  

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act  

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection section of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR12): 1–116. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Vital Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (9/15/11). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine-young-women.htm.
  3. Gillison ML, et al. (2012). Prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States, 2009–2010. JAMA, 307(7): 693–703.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

HPV: Should My Child Get the Vaccine?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Have your child get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV ( human papillomavirus ) that cause cervical cancer . Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts . There are other types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts, but these four types are some of the most common.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other expert groups recommend that boys and girls age 11 or 12 get the HPV vaccine. It can be given starting at age 9. It's also recommended for those 13 to 26 years old who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger.
  • The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.
  • The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV. When the vaccine is given at this time, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.
  • The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.
FAQs

How do you get HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus . You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. Infection with HPV is common, especially among young people. Half of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV. 1 But most people never know they have the virus, because it may not cause any symptoms.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. But only some types of HPV lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

  • Cervical cancer happens when HPV causes abnormal cells in the cervix to grow out of control. HPV can stay in your body for a long time. It can take 10 years or more for a woman to get cancer from an HPV infection. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.
  • Genital warts (skin growths) may or may not cause symptoms. Even if you treat visible warts, or if the warts go away without treatment, the HPV infection can stay in the body's cells. It's possible to spread genital warts to a sex partner even if you can't see the warts.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccines can help protect people from being infected with some of the most common types of the virus. The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect girls and young women against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer . Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts .

Females may use either Cervarix or Gardasil. Males may use Gardasil.

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For the vaccine to work best, all three shots must be given.

The vaccine doesn't treat an HPV infection. But it may protect a person against types of the HPV virus other than the one causing the infection.

Health insurance may cover all or part of the cost of the vaccine. But if you don't have health insurance, check with your local health department, clinic, or hospital. Girls and boys 18 or younger can get the HPV vaccine for a low cost or even for free through the Vaccines for Children program.

When should your child get the HPV vaccine?

It is recommended for children age 11 or 12 but can be given as early as age 9. For girls who have not already gotten the vaccine, it is recommended up to age 26. For boys who have not already gotten the shot, the vaccine is recommended up to age 21.

The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV. When the vaccine is given at this time, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against. 2

What are the benefits of the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine can reduce the risk of your child getting genital warts or cervical cancer caused by some of the most common types of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine also protects against anogenital cancers. Research is under way to see if the vaccine can be used to prevent oral cancers also. 3

The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

The vaccine series protects against the two or four types of HPV for at least 5 years. Studies are under way to see how long the vaccine will last and if a booster shot is needed. A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine that is given after the first series of shots.

What are the risks of the HPV vaccine?

Some people may have mild side effects such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. But neither lasts long. The doctor may have you stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the shot is given, to watch for any reactions.

How can you talk to your child about the HPV vaccine?

Some parents may worry about talking to their young child about the HPV vaccine, because they think it means they have to have the "sex talk." But you don't have to talk to your child about sex if you're not ready. Your child may get other vaccines when he or she is 11 and 12, such as a meningitis shot or a tetanus booster shot. You may want to start the HPV vaccine series when he or she receives these other shots. You can tell your child that these vaccines can help keep him or her healthy and prevent cancer and other illnesses later in life.

If you do decide to talk to your child about HPV and the vaccine, it doesn't mean you're giving your child permission to have sex. It's a chance to teach your child about safer sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . This information will be important for when he or she is older and making choices about sex.

Will your daughter need Pap tests after she gets the HPV vaccine?

Even though the HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, your daughter will need to get regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer. This is because there are some types of HPV that the vaccine doesn't prevent. Pap tests look for cells that may be, or can lead to, cervical cancer. If these cells are found early and treated, you may prevent cervical cancer. Experts recommend that women start having Pap tests at age 21.

2. Compare your options

  Have your child get the HPV vaccine Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine
What is usually involved?
  • Your child gets three shots over 6 months.
  • You may decide to wait until:
    • Your child is older before he or she gets the HPV vaccine.
    • More information is available about how well the vaccine works.
  • You can talk to your child about HPV and about how he or she might prevent infection.
What are the benefits?
  • The vaccine can reduce the risk of your child getting genital warts. And it protects women from getting cervical cancer.
  • Your child avoids possible side effects of the vaccine.
  • You don't have to take time for your child to get the shots.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Possible side effects include a low-grade fever and soreness where the shot was given.
  • When your child becomes sexually active, he or she will be more likely to get HPV.
  • If your child does get HPV, he or she will have a greater chance of getting genital warts. And your daughter will have less protection from cervical cancer.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about the HPV vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I want my son to be protected against HPV, but I was worried about how to talk to him about this vaccine. I didn't want to talk to him about sex or STIs, because he seemed too young. Then the nurse at the doctor's office said my son needed to have other vaccines and we could start them all at the same time. I told Lou that all of these shots would help keep him from getting sick both now and when he is older."

— Carmen, mom of 10-year-old Lou

"My daughter is away at her first year of college. We talked about safer sex before she left for school and I trust that she will make smart choices. When I told her about the vaccine, she told me she isn't having sex yet and doesn't want to get the vaccine. At this point, all I can do is give her the information and hope she gets the vaccine when she is ready."

— Rhonda, mom of 19-year-old Simone

"It's just me and Owen at home. I wasn't sure I could answer all of his questions about sex, so we are taking a sex education class together. Talking to him about a vaccine to prevent an STI in the future is a good way for us to start talking about safer sex."

— Brad, dad of 12-year-old Owen

"My daughter is young, and the HPV vaccine is pretty new. I want her to be protected, but I decided to wait and make this decision when she is a few years older."

— Janice, mom of 9-year-old Courtney

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have your child get the HPV vaccine

Reasons not to have your child get the HPV vaccine

From what I've heard about the vaccine, I believe it's safe for my child to get it.

I'm concerned about side effects from the vaccine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I want to protect my child from getting genital warts and cervical cancer.

I'm not worried about my child getting genital warts or cervical cancer.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My child knows that getting the vaccine doesn't mean permission to have sex.

I'm worried that my child may think that it's okay to have sex because he or she got the vaccine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My child doesn't mind getting shots.

My child hates getting shots.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having my child get the HPV vaccine

NOT having my child get the HPV vaccine

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. The best time for my child to get the HPV vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV.

2. My child will need to get three shots of the HPV vaccine.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, all three shots must be given.

3. The HPV vaccine will protect my child from getting some of the most common types of HPV.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection section of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR12): 1–116. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Vital Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (9/15/11). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine-young-women.htm.
  3. Gillison ML, et al. (2012). Prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States, 2009–2010. JAMA, 307(7): 693–703.

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