Health Care Teens Need

HPV Vaccinations

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 some common questions parents have about HPV and the HPV vaccine.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for the "Human Papilloma Virus." HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. It 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 three shots. It is the first type of vaccine that can prevent cancer and can prevent some types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, penile cancer, throat and mouth cancer, and anal cancer. These cancers kill many people every year. The HPV vaccine can also help prevent genital warts in men and women.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly recommend the vaccine series for 11 to 12 year olds, though boys and girls as young as 9 years of age can get the vaccine.

It takes 6 months to complete the three-dose vaccine series and it is important to schedule your child"s second and third doses before leaving the doctor"s office.

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 is recommended for boys and girls to get the vaccine 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 preteen boys and girls from ages 11 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 series was tested on older teens and was shown to work well for them. The vaccine works best for individuals that have never been sexually active, but it is safe and recommended for people up to age 25. The series of three shots must be completed for maximum effectiveness.

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.

Research shows that youth who received the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex. Taking your preteen to get the vaccine series is a great conversation starter to talk to your kids about sexual and reproductive health. Remember, studies show that teens who talk with 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.

For more tips, check out our Talk With Your Kids Timeline + Tips.

How can I pay for the HPV vaccine?

Your child will have to get a series of three shots. All together, this can cost around $360. If you don"t have insurance, ask your doctor about programs that can help.

If you and your teen are insured, your insurance company must cover the HPV vaccines series as a preventive service without charging a copayment.

A program called "Vaccines for Children" may be able to help. It provides free or low-cost vaccines for children 18 and under. Your child may qualify for this program. Learn more here.

Some local and state health departments have programs that offer the HPV vaccine series for low or no cost.

What else can I do to help my child prevent HPV?

You can talk to your children about how to prevent HPV and lower their 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 young women: 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. Current cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend that women ages 21-65 should get a Pap test every three years. Routine cervical cancer screening for women under 21 is no longer recommended.

Here are some easy-to-read materials about HPV and cancer of the cervix:

Birth Control

While teen pregnancy and birth rates are on the decline, there are still more than 600,000 teen pregnancies each year. If your teen is thinking about becoming sexually active, it"s important for her to learn about her birth control options and start an effective method of birth control to prevent pregnancy before she starts having sex.

What birth control methods are best for my teen?

Long-acting contraceptives such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are recommended as the most effective birth control methods for teens by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These methods are great for teens because unlike a pill that you need to remember to take every day, long-acting reversible contraceptives are inserted by the clinician once and remain effective for years.

For more teen-friendly information about the different methods of birth control available, visit TeenSource. Teens can also find a clinic near them where they can get more information and access the method that is best for them.

STD Screening + Condoms

Did you know that more than half of the nineteen million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections each year are among young people between the ages of 15 to 24? Because sexually active youth are at a higher risk of contracting an STD compared to older groups, it's important that they get screened regularly for STDs. Learn more about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"s STD screening guidelines for adolescents and for teen-friendly information about STDs, visit TeenSource.   

Using condoms the right way is the best way to lower the chances of getting an STD during sex. Condom use also helps prevent unplanned pregnancy. Free condom programs have increased condom use among teens who already have sex. These kinds of programs have not led to teens having sex more often.

Learn more about California Family Health Council"s Condom Access Project (CAP), a program designed to provide free condoms to California teens who need them.

Staying Healthy

Of course, there are many different factors that contribute to your teen"s health. To learn more about adolescent health, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/adolescenthealth/.

Let's Talk About...

by Sophia Yen, M.D. May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. As a pediatrician with a focus on adolescent medicine, my goal in life is to make sure that all teens have access to comprehensive sexuality education (“abstinence plus” vs. “abstinence only”) and confidential reproductive health care.