HPV Vaccination

By: Joan Stewart, RTT, BA HCA, Tri-Cities Cancer Center and Eastern WA American Cancer Society Ambassador for Mission: HPV Cancer Free

The topic of vaccination is one that brings with it a variety of thoughts and opinions. Recently, the measles outbreak in some parts of our country including the Vancouver, WA area has brought the conversation of vaccinations to the forefront. In this article, I want to specifically discuss the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.

In the world of vaccinations, the HPV vaccination is fairly new and often misunderstood. Some parents feel that if they have children who aren’t sexually active, then the HPV vaccination is not needed. The fact is that HPV vaccination is meant to protect children and teenagers before they are exposed to HPV, which is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. Also, the vaccine is strongly recommended for both boys and girls.

At a local level, specifically Benton and Franklin Counties, HPV vaccination rates are found to be lower than the state level. As of the end of December 2018, the HPV vaccination compliance rates for 9 to 14 year olds (the 2 dose series) in Benton County is 16% completion, Franklin County is 23% completion and Washington State is at 28%. We have plenty of opportunity for improvement and to prevent cancer in our children in the future.

So, why is HPV vaccination so important?
HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. Both boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 26 can be vaccinated for HPV. The vaccine is recommended at ages 11 and 12. Why? The vaccine is a two-dose series (mentioned above) spread over 5-12 months between the ages of 9 and 14 years of age and can have a stronger immune response than older kids and adults. At the age of 15 years and older, the vaccine is a three-dose series spread over six months.

It is estimated 80 million individuals in the United States are currently infected with the HPV virus and about four out of five people will get HPV at some point in their lives. HPV-related cancers affect men and women, which is why it is important for both boys and girls to receive the vaccine. The vaccine is proven safe and effective. Gardasil and Cervarix are the two vaccinations available to protect against HPV. The vaccines are 90% effective at preventing the types of HPV that cause cancer when given before a child is exposed to the virus.

What is the link between HPV and the Big C?
Every year, an estimated 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by a HPV-related cancer. HPV-related cancers include oral, throat, cervical, vaginal, penile, anal, as well as genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat. Warts can be treated, but may come back. Cancers can be more treatable if diagnosed early, but prevention is the best way to stop HPV-related cancers and that is why HPV vaccination is so important.

Is HPV vaccination safe?
Over 270 million doses have been distributed around the world since 2006, and safety studies continue to show that HPV vaccination is very safe. Vaccine safety is monitored around the U.S. and the world continually. Remember, all vaccines can have potential side effects, but reactions caused by the HPV vaccine have been mild and like those of other vaccines.

Is there a cure or treatment?
There is no treatment for the HPV virus itself. Fortunately, nine in 10 HPV cases clear up without treatment and show no symptoms. However, if HPV does not go away on its own, it can cause various cancers and genital warts.

What is the cost and where can you get the HPV vaccination?
The vaccine is FREE for children under the age of 19, but administration and office visit fees may apply. The vaccination can be given by the Benton-Franklin Health District, your primary health care provider or your local pharmacy.

Is there a way to test for HPV status?
There is no routine test to find out a person’s HPV status. The only test to detect HPV is in cervical cancer screenings.

I am a parent/guardian, where do I go to learn more about the vaccine for my child/children?
Please talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccination. They will have information regarding the HPV vaccination for your child/children. You may also visit tccancer.org/hpv or cancer.org/hpv for additional information.

The Tri-Cities Cancer Center is focused on educating our community on the importance of HPV vaccinations in partnership with the Benton-Franklin Health District. If you or someone you know would like more information, please visit tccancer.org/hpv

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