HPV Vaccine

Ask the Expert

Q:

I've been hearing about the new HPV vaccine for girls. I don't know whether I should have my 13-year-old daughter vaccinated or not. What do you think?


A:

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, called Gardasil, marks a major milestone in the fight against cancer and sexually transmitted infections. The vaccine is designed to protect against four HPV viruses that are found in 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. It is the first FDA-approved cancer vaccine.

There are more than 100 strains of HPV, about 40 of which cause sexually related infections as well as cervical, vulvar and anal cancers. The virus often infects women during their very first sexual experience and is very difficult to avoid, even with condoms. Within the first two years of the first incidence of intercourse, more than half of all women have acquired HPV. Overall, an estimated 20 million men and women in the United States are infected with HPV, and about 6.2 million become infected each year.

Gardasil is administered through three injections, with the second and third doses given two and six months, respectively, after the first. The vaccine has been shown to be safe in tests involving more than 11,000 girls and women ages 9 to 26 throughout the world, including the U.S. The main side effect is some pain at the injection site.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the vaccine for girls and women ages 11 to 26, although it can be administered to girls as young as 9. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered before girls become sexually active. However, even those who are sexually active may benefit from vaccination since few young women are infected with all four HPV types that the vaccine covers.

So, my recommendation is that you have your daughter vaccinated with Gardasil.

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