One Shot Your Tween Shouldn’t Miss

HPV vaccine keeps kids safe from some forms of cancer.

© Sergey Khakimullin |

What if your child could receive a shot that prevented certain types of cancer? Wouldn’t you insist upon it? The HPV vaccine does just that. Pediatricians now recommend vaccinating girls at their 11-year check-up, before adolescents become sexually active, since it protects against cervical cancer and genital warts.

My 15-year-old daughter recently received her last dose of the three-shot series. Though the HPV vaccine has been out since 2006, I purposely waited to see if there were any pharmaceutical recalls or reports of adverse effects. Not that I believe my daughter will have sex anytime soon, but someday (in the very distant future), I hope to become a grandmother. And for her to be a healthy mom, I wanted her to receive the vaccine.


What is HPV?

The human papillomavirus (papilloma means wart) or HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. More than 100 strands of the virus exist, and boys and girls can contract it from sexual contact (including vaginal, oral, and anal sex). In most cases, the body’s immune system clears the virus with no effects. But certain strands of HPV cause harmful illness, including genital warts, throat cancer, and cervical cancer. Most people who contract the virus don’t see any signs or symptoms.

That’s why Dr. Catherine Chidester, a pediatrician at the Yukon Clinic in Germantown, recommends the vaccine to her patients. “It’s a no brainer,” Chidester says. She advises boys to get vaccinated, too, to prevent the virus’s spread. “It’s like an insurance policy on our future son-in-laws.”     


How it Works

The HPV vaccine is administered in three scheduled doses that must be received over a six-month period. Although it has been available for nine years, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states 54 percent of teenage girls have received at least one of the three HPV shots, but only one-third have been fully immunized with all three doses. There are no numbers available yet for boys.  Less than 5 percent of patients have reported a negative reaction to the shot. The most common responses were dizziness, nausea, and pain at the injection site.  

The plateau in HPV vaccination is due to a variety of reasons: missed opportunities by health care providers to educate parents, a belief that immunization is not needed, safety concerns, and fear by parents that it will denote a “license to have sex.”  

Lori Allen, a Midtown mom of two teen girls, opted out of vaccinating her daughters for HPV. “It’s not necessary for them to get into school, so I didn’t want them to get it.” Allen has researched medical studies and FDA reports, but her primary concern is the long-term affects. “I just don’t feel like there is enough information out there.”       

But Dr. Claudette Jones Shepherd, an OB/GYN with UT Medical Group who specializes in adolescent medicine, says receiving the vaccine eliminates the risk of infection. “It doesn’t make sense not to get vaccinated.
 “Pediatricians in Memphis do a good job talking to parents about the vaccine and getting patients started,” says Shepherd. “But whether parents keep their child on schedule is another matter.”


Three Doses a Must

The three-shot series must be given over a minimum six-month period – usually two months between the first and second shot, with a third dose four months later. If you miss an appointment, you don’t need to start over, but your child should go ahead and complete the series for the vaccine to be effective. The shot is recommended for girls ages 11 or 12 to 26, and boys ages 11 or 12 to 21. The shot is covered by most health insurance plans and is free to TennCare and Medicaid recipients through the Shelby County Health Department.

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