Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P
While Gardasil is relatively new to the market, concerns over HPV in young women are not. Gardasil is a vaccine that targets Human Papillomavirus or HPV. HPV is the major culptrit in cervical cancer in women and can go undetected for years because it often does not have symptoms. It can also contribute to other problems such as infertility. The virus is sexually transmitted.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends girls get this vaccine before they become sexually active, at the 11-12 year old visit. Why this age? To intervene and protect them before their hormones cause them to potentially get themselves into trouble. While it is important to talk to teens about safe sex their developmental mindset is very impulsive so leaving this to education alone is not enough protection. Studies have also shown that the virus works best if girls have not already gotten one of the four HPV subtypes associated with cervical cancer.
In addition to the tween population, the vaccine is also important for girls and young women between 13 and 26 who have not yet received the vaccine. The young women in their 20's are likely sexually active and the teenagers becoming so over time so it is important that they get protection for HPV, too. But it is important to note that if a women has contracted one of the HPV subtypes, the vaccine will not be as effective against that strain. But, they should still get the vaccine. Better to have partial protection then none at all.
Boys are at risk for HPV, too. They can get genital warts and even rare cancers of their genitalia. Studies are underway to determine of the vaccine in its current form will benefit males. If so, clearly that would be victory since both sexes will be protected.
After the initial vaccination, a booster is needed one month later and then 5 months after that. That is similar to other vaccinations that require a series to provide full immunity.
The vaccine is safe and has few side effects beyond the expected discomfort. I think it is a good idea and we're planning on immunizing both our girls when they hit the magic age. While it won't protect our girls from the few other viruses that cause cervical cancer, it will hit the biggie and sometimes that is the most we can hope for.