Monday, January 2, 2012

On Call… with Dr. Mary Thomas

HPV Vaccine: A Pediatricians Argument to Vaccinate Your Daughters AND Sons !

Although millions of dollars and man-hours have proven again and again that our vaccines are safe, many parents are still afraid.  Each day that I am in my office I find myself making pleas to parents to vaccinate their children with routine vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and that are also required by New Jersey schools.  Imagine, then, how challenged I feel when faced with the task of vaccinating young girls, and even young boys with a vaccine that has garnered as much controversy as the HPV vaccine. 

 As a pediatrician, and a mom of three young kids I feel that one of my most important purposes in life is to protect children from illness and disease.  My vaccines are my most powerful tool in doing so.  I might even argue that the HPV vaccine is the sharpest tool in my belt because it is the only one that can protect our children from something that we all fear may sneak up on us – cancer. 

If this article has caught your attention you must have wondered about the HPV vaccine once or twice.  What is it and why is it so important?  HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a sexually transmitted virus that infects more that half of sexually active people at one time or another.  Usually it is a benign wart that may even be asymptomatic and will in many cases resolve without treatment.  However, in the US, 15,000 women will develop cervical cancer from that virus; and of those 15,000 women, 4,000 will die. 

Those statistics are very frightening, but for the first time in history, we can change them.  The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical cancer if the vaccine is received before first sexual contact.  This is why the optimal time to vaccinate is at age 11 or 12.  This is also the time when the body is primed to create the best immunity.

The schedule is simple.  The first dose is given and then the second will follow 1 to 2 months later.  A third dose is indicated 6 months after the first dose was received.  It seems easy, but we need to do better.  At present, only 32 percent of girls receive all three vaccines and only 1% of boys.

Yes, boys.  I guess you are thinking “Why should I vaccinate my son, who does NOT have a cervix?”  It is a good question.  On October 26th the CDC recommended the vaccine for all males ages 11 to 12.  For them it can prevent both genital warts and anal cancer.  There is also evidence that it may prevent some types of head and neck cancer transmitted through oral sex by men who have sex with men.  Don’t write me off at this point, this is not just an STD that affects homosexuals.  At some point we all hope that our sons will find the perfect girl and marry.  This vaccine protects her and helps prevent your son from caring for a wife with a cancer that can be potentially fatal. 

These are things that are hard to think about as parents.  They are even harder to talk about with our children.  A recent study in pediatrics showed that daughters of women who have talked to their mothers about the risks of unprotected sex and the benefits of vaccination were more likely to elect for the vaccine.  Talk to your kids.  Protect them before sexual contact.  You may be saving their life!