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HPV vaccinations are recommended for children ages 11 and 12.

Don’t forget this important back-to-school vaccination

As children head back to school, it’s time to make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations. Among the vaccines USA Health recommends for adolescents is the HPV vaccine, which protects against several cancers caused by infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV) later in life.

“HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women, and penile cancer in men. It can also cause anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer in both men and women, which is cancer of the back of the mouth and throat,” said Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of epidemiology and public health at the University of South Alabama and associate professor of family medicine at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine.

Two shots of the HPV vaccine, given six to 12 months apart, are recommended for children ages 11 and 12 but are encouraged for those as young as 9. “The most important things that we, as parents, should know are that this vaccine is safe, it is long-lasting, and it is effective,” said Daniel, who has two sons, 6 and 2. “I have personally received the HPV vaccine series, and my sons will, too, when they each turn 9 years old.”

Jennifer Young Pierce, M.D., M.P.H., gynecologic oncologist and professor of interdisciplinary clinical oncology at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, made sure her daughters were vaccinated at ages 9 and 10. “The earlier you start, the better,” Pierce said. “When kids are younger, their immune system produces more antibodies. This means better protection. Plus, they only need two shots if they start the series before age 15. After that, three shots are needed to get the same protection.”

It’s estimated that 85% of people in the U.S. will get an HPV infection during their lifetime. Since the HPV vaccine was introduced, infections involving types of the virus responsible for most HPV cancers and genital warts have fallen 88% among teen girls and 81% among young adult women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among vaccinated women, the percentage of cervical pre-cancers caused by the HPV types most often linked to cervical cancer has fallen by 40%.

Catch-up vaccination is recommended for individuals up to age 26. Some adults ages 27 through 45 who were not already vaccinated may choose to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and possible benefits of vaccination.

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