HPV Vaccine: Prevention Is the Best Medicine

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There is no cure for cancer, but there is a vaccine that protects against at least one strain of this often fatal disease. The highly effective human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine provides nearly 100 percent protection against HPV’s carcinogenic agents.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is very common. Currently 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million new cases develop each year.

Cancer can be a scary word, not one that most want to hear or even think about. It is, unfortunately, a reality that we may, at some point in our lives, have to address the topic of cancer. Cancer may not be something we want to think about but what if getting a vaccine now could prevent your child from having to worry about certain cancers in the future? HPV

Benefits of HPV Vaccine

Immunizations are safe, effective and have successfully reduced transmission of many deadly diseases. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is very common. Currently 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million new cases develop each year. There are many different types of HPV, several of which are known to cause different cancers and genital warts. The HPV vaccine can help prevent these cancers.

Immunize Nevada, in partnership with the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health and Nevada Cancer Coalition, has launched HPV Free NV, a statewide campaign to raise awareness and increase HPV vaccinations that could prevent cancer.

So, what should you know about the HPV vaccine? Here are the facts:

What is HPV?

HPV is an acronym for Human papillomavirus. As uncomfortable as it can be to talk about sexually transmitted infections, the HPV types that cause cancer and genital warts are sexually transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will come in contact with it at some point in their lifetime. There is no cure for HPV but getting vaccinated can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

What is HPV’s connection to cancer? Which cancers?

HPV is perhaps best known for causing cervical cancer. A little known fact is that men are at risk for HPV-related cancers as well. Men are actually four times more likely than women to suffer from HPV-associated oropharyngeal (mouth & throat) cancer. Other cancers related to HPV are anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers.

Tell us more about the HPV vaccine. 

HPV vaccines are given in a three dose series over a six-month period. HPV vaccines do not contain live viruses. They work by using a specific antigen from the virus, that is not live, to produce immunity. Since the vaccine does not contain any live virus  it cannot give you HPV or cause cancer.

Routine HPV vaccination is recommended for both boys and girls starting at 11 years of age, although the vaccine is safe to be given as early as 9 years of age. Vaccination at this age is most effective because it provides the highest production of protective antibodies and vaccination should be given before exposure to HPV occurs. Catch-up vaccination is recommended through age 26 for those who did not previously complete the series.

Is the HPV vaccination safe? How effective is it?

HPV vaccines are continually monitored for their safety and effectiveness. Since the vaccine was first released in 2006, health care providers have given millions of doses across the globe and no serious safety concerns have been found. All vaccines used in the U.S. are required to go through extensive safety testing before they are released to use.

HPV vaccines are highly effective. If the HPV vaccine series is completed and administered in the correct intervals it can provide nearly 100% protection from certain HPV types. HPV vaccines offer a promising approach to preventing cancer.

What are the side effects?

Some mild side effects can occur. The most common reaction is a sore arm where the injection was given. Swelling and redness can also occur at the injection site. Some other side effects include dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. Fainting is a common reaction for any adolescent vaccine. To reduce the risk of injury, an adolescent should sit or lie down for 15 minutes after the vaccine is administered.

How long does it last?

HPV vaccines are very effective in producing a high immune response. According to multiple research studies, protection from HPV vaccine is long lasting and lasts through the most critical time period for exposure. At this time, a booster is not recommended.

Are there programs for free or reduced-cost HPV vaccination?

Yes, there are programs that can help. The Affordable Care Act requires all new private insurance plans to cover HPV vaccines if the patient is within the recommended age group of 9-26 years of age and an in-network provider administers the vaccine. Public insurance plans, such as Medicaid, will also cover the HPV vaccine within the recommended age group. We recommend calling your insurance company ahead of time to make sure the vaccine is covered.

If the vaccine is not covered under insurance, a child may be covered through Vaccines for Children, a program that pays for vaccines for children younger than age 19 who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured or underinsured, or American Indian or Alaskan Native throughout the state of Nevada. For more information on VFC Nevada please visit: http://www.vfcnevada.org/

For adults who are low-income, uninsured, or underinsured, Merck & GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have established assistance programs to provide free vaccines. Merck provides the Gardasil vaccine to men and women over the age of 19. Please visit http://www.merckhelps.com/ or call 1-800-293-3881 for more information. GSK provides the Cervarix vaccine to women 19-25 years old. Please visit http://www.gsk-vap.com/ or call 1-877-822-2911 for more information.

Ashley plans, coordinates, and evaluates multiple statewide education and awareness projects, as well as performs community outreach, stakeholder management, and builds community partnerships. Her area of expertise is in HPV Vaccination and she acts as the HPV Project Manager at Immunize Nevada. Ashley obtained her B.S. in Community Health Sciences from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012, and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health at UNR, which she is expected to obtain in May 2015.

Contributed by Ashley McHugh, MPHc, Immunization Project Coordinator, Immunize Nevada

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