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HPV Vaccine

My son recently turned 11, and he and his friends are nervously thinking about their 11 year old well-check – and the fact that they get vaccines again. His friends' parents are asking me if I plan to give him the HPV vaccine, and if so why or why not. I confidently reply "yes," and add that my daughter already finished the vaccine series. But I realize that the way I discuss the vaccine is different with my friends and neighbors, when I am wearing my "mommy hat," then when I discuss it here in the office wearing my "pediatrician hat." In the office I tend to stick to the facts. I quote the research and refer to the Centers for Disease Control vaccine information sheet; and the facts are strong. The vaccine is very effective at preventing infection from HPV, or human papillomavirus, which can cause both genital warts and certain cancers. And I assure the parents that we have seen an excellent safety record with this vaccine in our practice. We do commonly see the known side-effects of a mildly sore arm and occasional fainting after this vaccine. Our nurses and medical assistants are very skilled at handling these common and harmless shot reactions.

When I speak to my friends and neighbors, I tend to get a bit more personal – because I really do feel strongly that this vaccine is important for my children, and their children. That's when I tell the personal stories I have encountered from friends due to HPV infections. There is the story of my friend who suffered through 4 miscarriages due to a condition known as cervical incompetence. Her cervix had been weakened due to procedures to treat abnormal PAP smears, keeping her from developing cervical cancer – a cancer caused by the HPV infection. And my two friends who sang with me in church choir – both who are survivors of mouth/throat cancer – another cancer which can be caused by HPV infection. My friends may have different stories if the HPV vaccine had been available when we were adolescents.

The next question I often get from my neighbors and friends is why do they get this vaccine so young? I certainly understand that question – my son was completely embarrassed with my explaining what a STD is and why this vaccine is important. Pediatricians start offering this vaccine at the 11 year old visit for two reasons – because it is already a vaccine visit and because adolescents' young, strong immune systems react very well to this vaccine. In fact, if they finish two doses before the age of 15 years, they don't need the third booster shot – my son liked that part! Discussing becoming a sexually active adult with an 11 year old is awkward. I hope over many years of conversations, my children will develop a well-stocked toolbox of skills to have responsible, successful romantic relationships. For me those tools will include a strong sense of self-worth, compassion, and a strong moral foundation built on the values of our family and our church home. Another tool I plan to give them is this HPV vaccine – so if they do encounter this infection, their immune systems can knock it out with a quick punch. As a protective mother, I am so glad to be able to protect them from a possible cancer causing infection.

If you have questions about the HPV vaccine before your adolescent's next Well-Child Check, please bring a list of talking points for your trusted PAMPA provider. Also, visit reliable resources such as the link below:

Submitted by Dr. Tamara Nix
On behalf of PAMPA

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PAMPA is a pediatric medical practice in north Atlanta, Georgia consisting of twelve pediatricians, five nurses,
and four locations in Roswell, Woodstock, Sandy Springs, and Marietta. area.
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