In October 2008, Dr. Harald zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the human papilloma virus (HPV) and ascertaining the role of this virus in causing cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women. Dr. zur Hausen's discovery paved the way for development of the first vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer. This vaccine has the potential for saving millions of lives around the world.
The HPV vaccine became available to the general public in 2006, after undergoing extensive test to ensure its safety. More than 10,000 people received the HPV vaccine during its testing phase and experienced no side effects other than soreness of the arm at the injection site. Millions of doses of this vaccine have been administered since, and no serious side effects have been seen.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for all women age nine to twenty-six. The reason why the vaccine is recommended to young girls is because the vaccine doesn't work well after the first sexual encounter. Even though your daughter is not going to have sex until much later, it is important to protect her early. Just like the rubella vaccine is designed to prevent congenital rubella syndrome, which does not occur until the girl becomes pregnant, the HPV vaccine is given at an early age to prevent catastrophe later in life.
Since girls can get the HPV infection from infected boys, why aren't boys immunized against the infection as well?
The HPV vaccine had only been tested in girls, so it is not known whether the vaccine is safe for boys. There is plan to eventually vaccinate boys with the HPV vaccine in the future, once it has been tested in boys.
To fully benefit from the HPV vaccine, it is necessary to get three doses. The vaccine is injected into the muscle, like most vaccines. The first two doses of the vaccine must be separated by at least two months, and the third dose must be given at least six months after the initial dose. The minimum interval between the second and the third dose is three months, assuming the third dose is given at least six months after the initial dose. An earlier dose of the vaccine never expires, which means as long as you get a total of three doses, the vaccines do not need to be given at exactly two-and four-month intervals.
Even though this vaccine was primarily invented to prevent cancer, the HPV vaccine also prevents genital warts. In fact, the vaccine is even more effective at preventing genital warts than preventing cervical cancer. While genital warts are not life threatening, they are painful, embarrassing, and could be debilitating.
It is important to understand that while this vaccine works very well, it does not prevent all the strains of the HPV that can cause cancer and warts. Therefore, it is still important to practice safe sex. It is possible to get both cervical cancer and genital warts even after completing the vaccine series, and it remains important to get an annual Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.
Many parents think this vaccine is not necessary because their daughter is only going to have one sexual partner. Premarital sex is not condoned in many households. However, it is possible to become infected with HPV even if a woman only has one sexual partner in her entire lifetime. Many men who are infected with HPV do not show any symptoms or signs of genital warts, yet they can still pass the infection to their sexual partner.