Most HPV types are harmless. Some cause warts on the feet or hands. Others cause warts in more problematic areas like the anus, genitals, or airway. Certain “high risk” types can cause cancer over time. This occurs when the virus infects sensitive cells, causing them to gradually transform into cancerous cells. These cells can then spread to nearby areas and throughout the body.
The HPV vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine
Yes, you read that correctly; the HPV vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine. The HPV vaccine is designed to make our bodies immune to “high risk” HPV types, and therefore protect us against cancer. And it is extremely effective. Over the last several decades, research has revealed that cervical cancer and mouth/throat cancers are very strongly linked to HPV. This means that HPV doesn’t always cause these types of cancers, but when the cancer is present, it is almost always caused by HPV. These cancers have declined since the HPV vaccine was developed.
We recommend the HPV vaccine just as strongly as we recommend other vaccines
The CDC and AAP recommend children get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12, although the series can be started as young as 9. There are either 2 or 3 vaccine doses in the series, depending on how old the child is.
As your pediatricians at Pediatric Associates of Cheshire (PAC), we have noticed a worrisome trend when it comes to HPV vaccines. Families tend to view them as “extra” or “not as strongly recommended”. Let us be clear: we recommend the HPV vaccine just as strongly as we recommend vaccination against tetanus, pneumococcus, and haemophilus influenzae. Yes, it is true that HPV does not pose an immediate risk of death to children the way some diseases do. Yet as physicians trained to prevent harm and ease suffering, we find it absurd that the HPV vaccine would be considered less important, simply because HPV can kill our patients as adults instead of as children. We don’t want your child to be harmed by a preventable disease at age 4 or at age 40.
Common reasons parents choose not to vaccinate their child against HPV
“HPV vaccination isn’t required for school”
There are limits on what a school system can and should require of its students for political and logistic reasons. For example, wearing a helmet while riding a bike isn’t required for school attendance. Yet this has no bearing on the undeniable truth that wearing a helmet makes your child safer on her bike. Similarly, the fact that schools don’t require HPV vaccines is not a good reason to withhold protection against HPV.
“Only girls need protection against HPV”
While males are not affected by cervical cancer, they are affected by mouth and throat cancer caused by HPV. Not to mention, if and when your son has a female partner as an adult, being vaccinated against high risk HPV subtypes will protect her from infection. Think of it this way: an HPV vaccine for your son can protect your future daughter-in-law– the mother of your future grandchildren– from developing cancer.
“The HPV vaccine encourages adolescents to have sex“
Try to remember being 17 years old. There were many factors influencing your decisions: advice from your parents, peer pressure, personal beliefs, in-the-moment emotions, etc. Amid all of these powerful forces, it would be surprising if a vaccine you received at age 11 ultimately persuaded you to engage in sexual activity. This belief reflects a fundamental misunderstanding in the way humans (especially adolescents) think. And the research agrees: getting the HPV vaccine does not increase sexual activity in teens. 
We’re here to help
The internet is full of “alternative” medical advice, much of which is incorrect. Yes, challenging mainstream opinions is a crucial part of medical science. But it can be difficult to tell which sources of information are trustworthy (following rigorous scientific standards) and which are not. At PAC, we are licensed physicians and board-certified in pediatrics. We can direct you to reliable sources of medical information, including information about vaccines. If you have questions about the HPV vaccine, or about something you read on the internet, please call our office or ask your pediatrician during your child’s next yearly physical. Below are some links to get you started.
- “What is HPV?”. CDC. 28 December 2015.
- Gina S. Ogilvie, Felicia Phan, Heather N. Pedersen, Simon R. Dobson, Monika Naus and Elizabeth M. Saewyc. CMAJ October 15, 2018 190 (41) E1221-E1226; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.180628