The HPV Vaccine Prevents Cancer. Should More Kids Get It?

What every parent needs to know about this potentially life-saving shot

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is the only vaccine currently available that can effectively prevent certain types of cancers, including cervical and throat. Yet vaccination rates for the virus — which is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), infecting 14 million new people per year — still remain low compared with other childhood vaccines.

While HPV vaccination has certainly been increasing in recent years — 54% of girls and 45% of boys were immunized in 2016 — it’s still significantly below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80% for 15-year-olds, according to a new study presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2019 Meeting.

What’s more, the rates vary widely across states, according to study author Szu-Ta Chen, M.D. For example, the study found that 60% of 15-year-old girls were fully vaccinated in just 13 states. For boys, the numbers were considerably worse: Only three states reached that threshold. One of the biggest obstacles? Lack of education about the risks of HPV infection and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

What Every Parent Needs to Know About the HPV Vaccine

While myths still surround the HPV vaccine, it’s important to know that it’s highly effective and potential side effects are typically mild and short-term (the same as with any other vaccine - such as mild soreness or redness at the injection site).

In the four years after the vaccine was officially recommended in the U.S., infections with the four types of HPV covered in the original vaccine plummeted by more than half in teen girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The latest vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against nine different types of HPV— seven that can cause cervical and other cancers and two that can cause genital warts, according to the National Cancer Institute.

All kids (yes, boys too!) who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine, according to CDC. That’s because the vaccine is most effective if given before kids become sexually active. But depending on the specific situation, people as young as 9 and as old as 45 can also get the vaccine.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.