Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

The State of Rhode Island Department of Health has introduced a new requirement for 7th grade immunization.  Students will be required to have the first dose of Human Papilloma Vaccine before 7th grade school entry.  The requirement is being implemented incrementally so that in 2016 2 doses will be required for 8th grade and in 2017 3 doses will be required for 9th grade. If you child will be in 7th grade next year you will be offered the vaccine at their next well visit.  Likewise if your child has already started the vaccine you can call for an appointment to complete the three dose series.

As the most recently introduced vaccine we know that many parents have questions about this vaccine and the reasoning behind requiring it. Please find below a questions and answers that cover the most common concerns about the HPV vaccine.

Why is a shot for a sexually-transmitted disease required for school?

While Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can be sexually-transmitted that is not the only way it can be transmitted. HPV is actually a skin infection and can be spread by any skin to skin contact.  HPV is the cause of cervical cancer and the majority of head and neck cancers.  Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women and head and neck cancer is the third most common cancer in men.  The HPV vaccine should actually be thought of as a cancer prevention shot.  Someone who is infected with HPV has 434 times the normal chance of developing one of these cancers.  By comparison, someone who smokes 2 packs of cigarettes for 20 years has a 10 times the normal chance of developing cancer.  HPV vaccination is a public health campaign to reduce cancer deaths in the future.

Why require it at the young age of 11?

The HPV vaccine is a designed to prevent HPV infection.  Therefore, for maximum effectiveness the three doses should be completed before a young person has initiated any sexual contact.  Studies have shown that children 13 and under who complete the HPV vaccine series have a two to three times better immunity to HPV than those who complete the series after 14 years old.  Studies have also shown that one-third of students have had sexual intercourse by the end of 9th grade and two-thirds have had sexual intercourse by the end of 12 grade.  Waiting until high school may be too late.

My child is not sexually active, why do they need this shot now?

The analogy has been used to compare HPV vaccine to bike helmets.  When do you tell your child to put on their bike helmet 1) Before they get on their bike 2) After they are riding their bike 3) When there is a car headed towards them or 4) After they have already been hit by the car.  A person does not have to engage in sexual intercourse to transmit HPV any type of sexual activity or experimentation can transmit the virus.

Wouldn’t giving my child the vaccine be giving them permission to have sex?

When you give your child a tetanus vaccine are you giving them permission to stick themselves with rusty nails?  Use vaccination as an opportunity to discuss with your child your family’s values surrounding sexual activity.  You can also have a discussion about the multiple other sexually transmitted diseases which the vaccine does not protect them against.

Is the vaccine safe and effective?

All the studies have shown HPV vaccine to be as safe and effective as all of the other routine immunizations.   The majority of the side effects seen are injection site pain and fainting after injection.