"Even though my daughter isn’t even thinking about boys yet, I made sure she got her HPV shots. I don’t want her becoming a statistic later on."
Lauren, mother of 10 year-old Ayana
Understanding the HPV Vaccine
As a parent, you may have heard about the HPV vaccine. You want to keep your children safe and you likely have a lot of questions. Here are answers to questions parents often ask about HPV and the HPV vaccine.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for the “Human Papilloma Virus.” HPV is very common and is spread by skin to skin contact during sex.
It’s very important to know:
- A person can have HPV and not know it. Often, there are no symptoms.
- HPV can be spread even when there are no symptoms.
- There are many types of HPV. Some types of HPV cause genital warts. Some types cause cancer of the cervix (the opening to a woman’s uterus.)
- Without treatment this cancer can even cause death.
There is no cure for HPV, but there are good ways to prevent HPV and cancer of the cervix.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is a series of shots. It can prevent some types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. This cancer kills many women every year. The HPV vaccine can also help prevent genital warts in men and women. Boys and girls as young as 9 years of age can get the HPV vaccine.
If HPV is spread through sex, why is the HPV vaccine recommended for children who are so young?
The vaccine works best when it is given to someone who has never had sex with anyone. That is why it makes sense to give the vaccine to boys and girls well before they start having sex. The vaccine was tested for children as young as nine years old and shown to be safe. It is recommended and works best for boys and girls from ages 9 to 12 years old.
Should my teenage children be vaccinated against HPV?
It is still useful for older teens to get the vaccine. The HPV vaccine was tested on older teens and was shown to work well for them. The vaccine works best in men and women who have never been sexually active, but is safe and recommended for people up to age 25.
Wouldn’t giving the HPV vaccine to young people encourage them to have sex?
Being vaccinated for HPV does not encourage girls and boys to have sex.
It does give you a great way to talk to your kids about sexual health. Remember, studies show that teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex until later in life. They will also be more likely to use condoms when they do have sex. This website has a lot of suggestions for getting that conversation started.
What if I can’t pay for the HPV vaccine?
Your child will have to get a series of three shots. All together, this can cost around $360. Ask your doctor about programs that can help.
- Your insurance company may cover the vaccine.
- A program called "Vaccines for Children" may be able to help. It provides free or low-cost vaccines for children under 18. Your child may qualify for this program.
- Some local and state health departments have programs that offer the vaccine for low or no cost.
Will my daughter still need Pap tests if she gets the shot?
All women must have regular Pap tests, whether or not they get the vaccine.
The vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cancer of the cervix. Even if she has had the vaccine, the best way for your daughter to protect her health is to get regular checkups.
- Your daughter should start getting Pap tests when she turns 21.
- She should come back for Pap tests as often as her doctor says.
What else can I do to help my child prevent HPV?
You can talk to your children about how to prevent HPV and lower the risk of developing cancer of the cervix. You can encourage them to:
- Delay having sex. The best way to prevent HPV is to not have sex at all.
- Use condoms. If people have sex, using condoms lowers their chances of getting HPV.
- Have sex with one person who only has sex with you. The fewer sexual partners a person has, the lower their chances of getting HPV.
- For girls: Get regular exams. Pap tests check for changes that could lead to cancer of the cervix. This gives her the chance to get treated early - before cancer develops.