Friday, April 12, 2024

From Sarah Orton, of Somerville, March 23, 2017: Massachusetts has a high overall vaccination rate, but recent statistics shown that one very important vaccine is often overlooked: the human papillomavirus vaccine. In 2015, only 53 percent of females and 33 percent of males aged 13 to 17 had received all three of the HPV vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s really only slightly higher than the national rate.

The human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. While most infections clear on their own, persistent infections can lead to the development of cervical, vaginal, penile and throat cancers later in life. The vaccine has been approved and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and available for about 10 years. The CDC recommends that all children, male and female, get the vaccination series starting at age 11 or 12 years old, but the vaccine can be given to children as young as 9. Those who begin the series under the age of 15 now require only two doses. It is estimated that most of the 30,700 HPV-related cancers diagnosed annually could be prevented with greater vaccination. In short, this is a vaccine that can prevent cancer.

The low rate of vaccination can be attributed to many factors. The lower rate among boys is related to the perception that males are not at risk for HPV-related cancers.  Some parents are concerned about having an uncomfortable conversation about the sexual transmission of the virus. Others believe kids are more likely to become sexually active after getting the vaccine. As with all vaccines, some parents are concerned about side effects and the safety of vaccines in general, although multiple studies have deemed the vaccine safe and effective.

As a nurse practitioner student, I encourage all parents of preteens and adolescents to have an open conversation with their child’s health care provider about the benefits of the vaccination and its role in preventing cancer.

Sarah Orton is a Somerville resident and a family nurse practitioner student at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.