Living Columns & Blogs

Should your child get the HPV vaccine?

After 10 years, parents are still conflicted about giving their child the human papillomavirus vaccine. All vaccines have risks and benefits, but the HPV vaccine is particularly controversial. If you are unsure about HPV vaccination, consider the following information from Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.

Understanding HPV and the need for a vaccine

More than 40 types of HPV can affect the genital, anal, and oral areas of males and females, making HPV infection the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 14 million people become newly infected annually. Even more alarming, most people with HPV never develop symptoms. Nine out of 10 HPV infections go away by themselves within two years. Sometimes, however, HPV persists and can cause genital warts or cancer.

HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. The second most common type of cancer for women worldwide, cervical cancer is also one of the most preventable diseases. Vaccination and abstinence are the only proven methods of prevention.

Because the HPV vaccine produces higher levels of antibodies that fight HPV infection in preteens than it does in older teens or young adults, nearly all major pediatric health associations recommend that the vaccine be administered to children between 11 and 12 years old. Furthermore, anyone under age 15 can receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart, rather than the previously recommended three doses. Teens and young adults who start the series later will continue to need three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against the infection.

About the vaccine

Gardasil 9 is designed to protect against new infections with HPV types 6, 11, 16, 19, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. It is approved for females aged 9 to 26, and boys aged 9 to 15, and is the vaccine used by Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.

One of the issues that often arise in discussions of HPV vaccination is safety. The most common side effect is pain and redness at the injection site. Headaches, abdominal pain and generalized body aches occur in a reasonable fraction of recipients. Still, the vaccine is considered to be quite safe. More serious side effects have been reported, but have by and large not been shown to be vaccine-related. Reports of vaccine-linked fatalities appear to be unfounded.

The CDC notes that it is best to receive the vaccine before becoming sexually active. Most females who become infected with HPV are exposed within two to five years of initiation of sex. Males are advised to receive the vaccine, not only to protect against genital warts and HPV-related cancers, but also to help stop the spread of HPV. Teens and young adults who are sexually active can still receive the vaccine, but may derive fewer benefits if they’ve already been exposed to HPV. Females can receive the vaccine through the age of 26, and males through age 21.

To learn how you can help protect your child, call Mount Nittany Health Pediatrics at 466-7921 or visit

Rachel Zimmerman, DO, is a pediatrician with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics and sees patients at the Mount Nittany Health – Boalsburg location.