(New Haven, Conn.) — August is National Immunization Awareness Month and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE) encourages everyone to speak with their health care provider about the benefits of vaccinating against human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV remains a serious issue in the United States. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. – with 79 million Americans infected – and the major cause of cervical cancer in women. Each year 14 million people become newly infected with HPV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that girls and boys ages 11-12 receive the routine HPV vaccination. Routine vaccination is a series of three shots over the course of six months. It is very important people being vaccinated receive all three shots, on the recommended schedule, to ensure full protection. The HPV vaccine is sometimes a source of confusion as a result of misinformation, but is safe for females and males.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health benefits, more young people will have access to routine HPV vaccinations without their parents having to pay out of pocket or copays,” said Judy Tabar President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. “This benefit helps make the vaccine accessible and affordable for millions of families.”
HPV is a STI that can be spread through touch, and can lead to cervical, throat and other cancers. The HPV vaccine is proven to prevent infection – and thus prevent some cancers – but it has to be taken in the right doses, and should be given at an early age.
“Medical and scientific experts agree that the vaccine is most effective when it is administered early, in part because the full vaccine has to be administered prior to any possible exposure,” said Dr. Timothy Spurrell, Medical Director of PPSNE. “The HPV vaccine is not only for children to prevent infection and possible cancer later in life but also intended for sexually active people.”
While the HPV vaccination is most effective when children are 11 and 12, it is recommended to be given up to age 26. Research shows that the HPV vaccine does not encourage young people to have sex; rather, it keeps young people healthy and safe, and gives parents a great way to talk with their kids about sex and sexual health.
The HPV vaccine was introduced eight years ago, and it has already begun to help prevent infection rates. The HPV rate among teenage girls nationwide has dropped by 56 percent since the vaccine was introduced.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Nationwide, just 33 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 – and only 7 percent of boys in the same age group – have gotten all three doses of the vaccine. In Connecticut, approximately 44 percent of girls ages 13-17 and 8 percent of boys have received all three doses. In Rhode Island, roughly 58 percent of girls ages 13-17 and 18 percent of boys have received all three doses.
As a result, millions of people are infected with HPV every year, and nearly all sexually active people will contract a form of HPV at some point in their lives.
“The danger of HPV is that it can lead to more serious diseases, with two subtypes causing 70 percent of cervical cancer. It is important parents vaccinate their children for HPV early,” Spurrell said. “Getting all the recommended vaccines, including for HPV, is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health.”
For teens and adults, the only way to totally be protected against HPV is to avoid any sexual activity that involves touching genitals. For those who are sexually active, there are three ways to decrease the chance of HPV infection: limit your sexual partners, get a regular Pap test that can detect HPV, starting at age 21, and use condoms.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England provides HPV vaccines, Pap tests, and condoms, as well as education and information to help prevent the spread of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, PPSNE provides a range of resources to help parents navigate these topics with their children.
To schedule an appointment call 1-800-230-PLAN (7526) or for more information, visit ppsne.org.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE) is one of the region’s largest providers of family planning and reproductive health care services. Since 1923, PPSNE has evolved into an organization with 18 health centers in Connecticut and Rhode Island, delivering care to over 70,000 patients annually, and 90 percent of the services provided are preventive.