Recently, I have been asked frequently about the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine (HPV vaccine) by a lot of parents. Their concern mostly circles around cervical cancer, and whether their child can be protected from it.
I have written a detailed guide on cervical cancer on this blog if you wish to read about it here.
I thought I would briefly discuss what the Human Papilloma Virus is, what vaccines are currently available, and also outline the current Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on young women and the HPV vaccine.
Please note that this is just a guide, and if you wish to avail more information you must see a registered medical gynecologist or pediatrician.
What Is Human Papilloma Virus?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can be passed between men and women through sexual contact. There are more than 100 different strains of HPV. Many of them are harmless, but some can cause serious health problems like genital warts and some types of cancer.
HPV is spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. It can spread from one person to another even if no apparent signs of illness exist.
Most people who get HPV won’t have any signs or symptoms, and the virus will go away on its own in a few months to a few years. But in some people, the virus can cause cells to grow in an abnormal way, which can lead to cancer, especially in the cervix, anus, and throat.
What Is The Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine?
The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is meant to protect against infection with certain strains of the HPV virus that are known to cause cancer.
The HPV vaccine is available in several formulations, including the bivalent vaccine, which protects against two strains of the virus; the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of the virus; and the 9-valent vaccine, which protects against nine strains of the virus.
When Should The Vaccine Be Administered? (Vaccine Schedule)
The guidelines for the HPV vaccine have been set forth by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP).
Getting the HPV vaccine as a preventative measure is advised at the age of 11 or 12. (Vaccinations can begin at 9 years old.)
This early age is believed to be the best time to administer the vaccine as it can generate the best immune response against cancer.
If a person was not adequately immunized as a child, the ACIP also recommends vaccination until the age of 26. Depending on how old you are when you get your first HPV shot, you may need two or three doses.
People over the age of 26 don’t need to get vaccinated. If they were not adequately immunized when they were younger, some adults between the ages of 27 and 45 may decide to get the HPV vaccine after consulting with their clinician.
People in this age range get less benefit from getting vaccinated against HPV. This is because more people in this age group have already been exposed to HPV.
Clinicians can talk about HPV vaccination with adults between the ages of 27 and 45 who are most likely to benefit. Most adults older than 26 do not need to have the HPV vaccination.
In patients with low immunity, the vaccine should be administered at 0, 1-2 and 6 months regardless of age.
Which Vaccine Should My Daughter Take?
Clinical trials have been done on three different HPV vaccines, which vary in the number of HPV types they contain and target. However, not all of them are available in all places:
The Human papillomavirus quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil) targets HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.
The Human Papillomavirus 9-valent vaccine (Gardasil 9) targets the same HPV types (6, 11, 16, and 18) as the quadrivalent vaccine, plus types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
The Human papillomavirus bivalent vaccine (Cervarix) targets HPV types 16 and 18.
According to the Indian Academy Of Pediatrics, the HPV-9 is expected to prevent over 98% of cervical cancers in India, whereas the Bivalent vaccine (HPV2) and the Quadrivalent vaccine (HPV 4) are expected to prevent approximately 83% of cervical cancers.
When possible, it is advised to take the HPV-9 vaccine.
What If A Dose Is Missed?
It is possible to miss a dose sometimes. If that happens, the ACIP recommends just continuing with the existing protocol rather than starting from the beginning.
Can HPV Vaccines Be Given To Pregnant Women?
Because of the lack of data on the safety of HPV vaccination during pregnancy, it is not recommended for pregnant women.
If a woman begins the vaccination series and then discovers she is pregnant, she can rest assured that the pregnancy will not be affected by the vaccine.
However, further vaccinations should be withheld until the woman is no longer pregnant.
The vaccine is safe for lactating mothers.
Is Cervical Cancer Screening Still Needed After Vaccination?
It is advised to continue cancer screening as patients may have had HPV infection prior to the vaccination starting.
How Long Does The Vaccine Protect My Child?
Although it is unknown how long the vaccine protects against HPV infection, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine’s efficacy declines with time.
Any Side Effects?
Mild redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site has been reported after receiving the HPV vaccine. Avoid standing up too quickly after receiving the HPV vaccine because doing so may raise the risk of fainting.
For a detailed guide on cervical cancer, click here.