Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, is a very common sexually transmitted virus. At some point in their lives, nearly everyone who is or ever been sexually active on this planet has been exposed to, or contracted some form of this virus.
Very few strand of HPV cause health complications; however, those few strands can cause life-threatening problems, especially cancer. The most serious forms of HPV are type 16 and, to a lesser extent, type 18. These two types of HPV cause about 75% of cervical cancer found in women.
Today cervical cancer, especially when it’s caught early, is very treatable, with cure rates approaching 100%. However, in recent years, research has shown us that HPV type 16 is responsible for other types of cancers, which are not as easily treated as cervical cancer, and usually have much higher death rates. Some of these diseases include certain laryngeal (throat) cancers, vulvar and vaginal cancers, and anal cancer (which can occur even without anal sexual contact).
Thankfully, most of the time an HPV infection clears up completely on its own, especially in young people. Also, we now have vaccines to help prevent the diseases related to HPV. The best-known vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is Gardasil, manufactured by Merck Pharmaceuticals. It has been available in the United States since about 2006. Gardasil protects against HPV type 16 and 18, and also HPV types 6 and 11. (HPV types 6 and 11 aren’t associated with cancer, but can cause genital warts, which can be disfiguring, distressing, and can complicate pregnancy.)
Gardasil also has a great safety record. It’s one of the most tested vaccines available today. And the best news is it works! Every followup study of Gardasil has shown the vaccine to be overwhelmingly successful in reducing pre-cancerous lesions caused by HPV and in preventing genital warts. Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys ages 9-26, with the target ages being 11-12 years old. This age range is recommended because the 3-injection series can be completed well before sexual activity is on the horizon for most young people, meaning there would be no prior HPV exposure, and the vaccine would offer the very best protection.
It would seem that vaccinating our kids for HPV would be a “no-brainer”, right? For many parents, it is. For other parents, it definitely isn’t! But why? The simple reason is this: S-E-X. Some people, with their own agendas, have taken a public health issue and have turned into a political/moral crusade. It’s sort of like this “If you give them the vaccine, they will just go out and have SEX!” They may even trump up misleading or outright false claims of danger or side effects related to this vaccine simply to further their outrageous arguments.
Let’s take sex out of the discussion. If Gardasil protected your child from Leukemia, would you have her/him immunized? How about if it prevented Melanoma by about 100%? What about Osteogenic Sarcoma (bone cancer)? Or a deadly brain tumor? Let’s face it: Gardasil is the only vaccine we have that prevents any cancer, and it does a great job! What parent would not want to protect their child from cancer?
The other news flash is that at some point in their lives, most of our children will become sexually active. Many of us, me included, want this to be when they are married and ready to begin a family. However, my child or your child may not choose that same route. Or, the child may choose abstinence until marriage, but his or her future spouse may have lived a different lifestyle. This vaccine could protect him or her from the consequences of other people’s choices in life.
Here’s one final thought: If your child was two years old and she reached for the hot stove, you wouldn’t stand by and let her burn herself. You wouldn’t let her experience consequences of her behavior. You would move heaven and earth to snatch her away from danger. You would do anything to protect her. She’s just a young child and doesn’t know any better.
During the teen years, our children are biologically adults, but they are still children too. Their brains are still developing, and they don’t fully comprehend the consequences of all of their behaviors. They engage in risky behavior, like texting and driving. Sometimes they drink alcohol. Sometimes they don’t wear their seatbelts. Sometimes they engage in risky sexual behaviors. I hope you’ll do as I did, and choose to immunize your children with the Gardasil vaccine. It just might save their lives.
Keep Calm and Mother On!