Posted: Apr 24, 2014 9:00 AM
It's been nearly eight years since the FDA approved the Gardasil vaccine for the prevention of HPV and related diseases. While it's recommended that children be vaccinated before adolescence and sexual activity, many parents continue to hold off. Experts chime in on the importance of Gardasil-type vaccines, and what they've learned since their introduction in 2006.
Photo credit: Blend Images/Ariel Skelley/ Vetta/ Getty Images

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question.

Thanks to HPV vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix, the vaccination debate now continues well into a child's adolescence. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh , offers his expertise in an effort to help parents make an informed decision.

What is Gardasil?

Certain types of HPV cause an estimated 90 percent of genital warts and 70 percent of cervical cancers cases, and the risk of HPV in sexually active females ages 14 to 24 is on the rise. Vaccines such as Gardasil — approved by the FDA in 2006 — protect against these strains of HPV.

Just do it

"I definitely recommend HPV vaccination as a component of the standard vaccination series that all undergo," says Dr. Adalja. Since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, "we've learned that it is safe and effective at preventing genital warts and cervical cancer and it also can prevent vaginal, vulvar, anal and head/neck cancer."

Target: Young virgins

The FDA recommends vaccination before adolescence and potential sexual activity, but even if your child is sexually active, the vaccine is still a good idea. "Vaccination is better if it occurs before sexual debut, but the vaccines are protective against a broad range of HPV types that a person may not have encountered yet," explains Dr. Adalja.

Vaccination is better if it occurs before sexual debut, but the vaccines are protective against a broad range of HPV types that a person may not have encountered yet.

"HPV vaccines are recommended for those aged 9 and up," he says. "Once unvaccinated individuals reach their 20s, there may be only little protective effect from getting a vaccination. So, it is generally not recommended for females over age 26 or men over 21."

Wait... did he say "men?"

Yes. "Both sexes can be infected with HPV," says Dr. Adalja. While the primary purpose of the vaccine is to prevent cervical cancer, which doesn't apply to men, it can also prevent genital warts and penile and other cancers which are relevant to men. "Additionally, to truly decrease the burden of cervical cancer, its spread has to be targeted — and men and boys are a vector of spread when they infect females," says Dr. Adalja.

What about side effects?

A discussion about vaccinations is not complete unless the subject of side effects is addressed. HPV vaccines have been in use for eight years and, according to Dr. Adalja,"there are no troubling side effects associated with the vaccine." Advocates feel confident that the vaccine is problem-free.

Cancer doctor and mother says it's a "no-brainer."

Dr. Lois Ramondetta is a professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Ramondetta treats patients with cervical cancer and, perhaps even more relevant, is a mother of two daughters.

"You can prevent most cervical cancers by getting the HPV vaccine before you have any sexual contact," says Dr. Ramondetta. "You can also avoid HPV by limiting your number of sexual partners and by continuously practicing safe, protected sex.

"I can't encourage people enough to get the vaccine, girls and boys. My [teenage] daughter got the vaccine, and if I had a son, he would get it, too."

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