Protect "future adults" with HPV vaccine for children
January 18, 2023
NORTH CONWAY, NH – Almost 35,000 people in the US are diagnosed with a cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) each year. The HPV vaccine is the only approved vaccine that can prevent cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the HPV vaccine is estimated to prevent 90% of HPV-related cancers. “If you could prevent your child from getting cancer, why wouldn’t you?” asks Dr. Kathryn Fekete, pediatrician at Memorial hospital.
“It is important to protect future adults well before they are exposed," says Fekete. "If a child starts the series before age 15, they only need two shots to complete the series, but if they start at age 15 or older, they need three doses to achieve long lasting immunity.”
HPV is a very common infection. In most people, the body is able to get rid of the infection on its own. In some people the infection does not go away and can cause cancer. HPV can cause both cervical cancer and cancers of the head and neck. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection, over 135 million doses of HPV vaccine have been administered since becoming available in 2006 and rates of cervical cancer have since dropped.
The vaccines are most effective at preventing cancer when given to patients before they become sexually active. Anyone who has had any intimate contact can get HPV. Even if a person delays sexual activity or only has one partner, they are still at risk of HPV infection.
“The HPV virus is ubiquitous and many people will become exposed shortly after they begin sexual activity, which is why it is important to immunize against it prior to potential exposure,” says Dr. Fekete. “After receiving the vaccine, patients can expect pain, swelling or redness where the shot was given, but otherwise there are no significant side effects to worry about. As I like to say, side effects of vaccines include having a longer, healthier life.”
Studies show that HPV vaccines are very safe. HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people around the world before approval and have since continued to be monitored for safety.
Unvaccinated adults may be at risk of cervical cancer
The HPV vaccine is considered the first line of defense against cervical cancer. The second line of defense is the Pap test, a test that collects cervical cells and screens for abnormal cells that may develop into cervical cancer. The NH Breast and Cervical Cancer Program offers free screening and diagnostic services to those who are between the ages of 21 and 64 and are uninsured or underinsured at Memorial Hospital.
“This program is a great way to prevent people who are uninsured or underinsured from falling through the cracks,” says Melissa Bartlett, Medical Outreach Case Manager at Memorial Hospital and the Site Coordinator for the Breast and Cervical Cancer program. “We are seeing more people with health insurance than in years back, but there is still a population of those who are uninsured. This program offers a free Pap test, pelvic exam, clinical breast exam, mammogram, and other diagnostic services, as applicable to eligible individuals.”
To learn more about free screenings, call 603-271-4931. To learn more about getting vaccinated for HPV, talk to your primary care provider about receiving the HPV vaccine. Visit MaineHealth.org/HPV for more information on HPV.
About Memorial Hospital
Memorial Hospital is a not-for-profit 25-bed Critical Access Hospital located in North Conway, NH, and is a member of the MaineHealth family. Its hospital services include a 24-hour emergency department, surgery center, clinical laboratory, heart health & wellness programs, imaging services, cardiopulmonary care, family birthing center, oncology, chemotherapy and infusion services. Practices include primary care and family medicine, diabetes care, behavioral health, women's health, podiatry, orthopedics and physical therapy. Memorial Hospital is also home to The Merriman House nursing home, which provides senior care services in a comfortable, home-like setting. For more information, visit memorialhospitalnh.org or call 603-356-5461.