HPV Vaccine: The anti-cancer shot most kids aren’t getting

The HPV virus causes tens of thousands of preventable cancer deaths every year. Yet only half of young women and 20% of young men receive the vaccine, leaving far too many children unprotected from HPV-related cancers.

For some parents, the vaccine is a controversial decision. Many are skeptical over HPV’s association with sex. Others simply haven’t received enough information about the potentially life-saving benefits of HPV vaccination.

In this article, we’ll cover some frequently asked questions about the vaccine, so you can make the right decision for your family.

What is HPV and how is it transmitted?

Let’s start with a quick rundown of the virus and how it spreads. HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is passed through close skin to skin contact–usually sexual activity. There are over 100 strains of HPV, and some are riskier than others. Some strains cause warts, some cause cancers (including cervical cancer and penile cancer), and some cause no symptoms at all. The HPV vaccine protects against the 9 strains of the virus that are most likely to cause cancer and warts.

Why should my child get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV virus is so common, about 8 out of 10 people will get it at some point in their lives. Many infections with HPV go away on their own without lasting health problems. But sometimes the infection will turn into cancers that affect both men and women. Consider the following cancer statistics.

Vaccination can improve these numbers drastically and are critical to cancer prevention. Real-world data out of the UK showed an 87% reduction in cervical cancer among young women who were vaccinated. Researchers are still investigating the impact of the vaccine on other types of cancer. However, the vaccine is known to protect against most cancer-causing strains of HPV, including those that affect men.

Why do children need the HPV vaccine, if the cancers don't develop until adulthood?

The vaccine can only prevent HPV infection, it cannot clear the body of the virus once transmission occurs. This is why the vaccine targets children aged 9 to 12, before they become sexually active. When the vaccine is given early, it can prevent almost every type of HPV infection.  

The protective effect is weakened when teenagers and young adults are vaccinated in a “catch-up” campaign. This is in part because pre-teens produce more antibodies after HPV vaccination. Teens are also more likely to have be sexually active by the time they get their jab. Certainly, a late vaccine is better cancer prevention than no vaccine at all. But it is most effective when given in the recommended time frame.

Why do boys need the HPV vaccine?

Getting vaccinated is an important step in cancer prevention.The HPV vaccine helps protect your son against cancer as an adult. Boys who are vaccinated are less likely to get genital warts. HPV in men can also cause oral, penile, and anal cancers. Also, by getting the vaccine, boys are less likely to pass HPV infection on to their future partners.

Why do girls need the HPV vaccine?

Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of female cancer in the Philippines. The vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if it’s given before girls or women are exposed to the virus. This vaccine can also prevent vulvar and vaginal cancer. In addition, it can prevent genital warts, anal cancers, and mouth, throat, head and neck cancers in both women and men.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

More than 270 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been administered globally. And over 100 studies have demonstrated it is safe and effective. Health organizations and scientists continuously monitor the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. The following health agencies have endorsed HPV immunization as safe:

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • The World Health Organization (WHO)
  • National Cancer Institute
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Cancer Society
  • Philippine Department of Health

Are there side effects?

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, but most are very rare and very mild. Most people don't have any side effects from the HPV vaccine, beyond a sore arm at the injection site. However, if your child has a yeast allergy or is allergic to any vaccine component, they should not get an HPV vaccination. The effects of HPV in men and women far outweigh the minuscule risk of getting vaccinated.

Does the HPV vaccine encourage promiscuity?

HPV is usually spread through sexual contact. When the vaccine first received FDA approval, opponents feared the vaccine would free minors from the fear of contracting HPV and encourage teenage sex.

Their fears were unfounded. Researchers from Harvard compared US states with HPV vaccination campaigns with the states that didn’t promote the vaccine.  Teens living in the states with HPV campaigns did not have higher rates of sexual activity.

The findings should reassure parents that HPV vaccination does not encourage more sexual activity. It simply offers protection against HPV for the kids who are active.  

HPV vaccine Philippines - What is the dosing schedule?

The HPV vaccination series can be started as early as age nine, with age 11-12 being ideal.  

HPV dosing is as follows:

  • A two-dose series (interval: 0, 6-12 months) for most children who initiate vaccination at ages 9 through 14 years.
  • A three-dose series (interval: 0, 1-2, 6 months) for teens and young adults who initiate vaccination at ages 15 through 25 years.

Note, the HPV vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

HPV vaccine Philippines - Where to avail? Do I need a prescription?

The HPV vaccine in the Philippines is available to people aged 9-26. Some public schools and barangays have led HPV vaccination campaigns. Unfortunately, many public health initiatives in the Philippines are underfunded and cannot provide the same quality control as a trusted vaccine provider. For guaranteed authenticity, look for a distributor that sources vaccines directly from the manufacturer, provides US FDA-approved brands, and ensures climate-control. You can also receive the HPV vaccine in the Philippines through a home vaccination service. Most vaccine providers do not require a prescription.

Are there any other vaccines for cancer prevention?

There is only one other vaccine that helps with cancer prevention—the Hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis virus (HBV). Illness ranges from mild to chronic, long-term infection.  Chronic cases can sometimes lead to liver cancer. The HBV vaccine is key to cancer prevention in the Philippines, where an estimated 1 in 10 Filipinos has the chronic form of Hepatitis B. While it cannot cure those who have already contracted Hep B, it can help with cancer prevention in children and people who haven’t yet been infected.

HPV Vaccination Saves Lives

The vaccine is a major stride toward cancer prevention in both men and women. Some parents may feel the HPV vaccine is not urgent because it takes several years for HPV symptoms to appear.  But reaching children before they become sexually active is key. And after 15 years of HPV inoculation, there is overwhelming evidence that it is safe, effective, and can prevent devastating cancers caused by the virus.