If there were a vaccine against cancer, wouldn’t you get it for your kids?

January 26, 2023

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Each year, more than 37,000 cancer cases attributable to human papillomavirus, or HPV, are diagnosed in the U.S. Thankfully, there is a vaccine that can prevent HPV and the cancers it can cause.

During HPV Prevention Week (January 22 – 28), the Alliance for HPV Free Colorado – a regional collaborative led by the Public Health Institute at Denver Health – is encouraging parents to get their adolescent boys and girls vaccinated against HPV to help prevent HPV-related cancers that can develop later in life, including cervical, vaginal, penile, anal, rectal, and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adolescent boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12; it can be given as early as age nine. Giving the vaccine at this age is important because it protects kids before they are ever exposed to HPV, and it is also when the immune response to the vaccine is the strongest. Kids who initiate the HPV vaccine series before their 15th birthday need just two doses; if they start after they turn 15, they need three.

Most people will get HPV at some point in their lives, yet Colorado vaccination rates for HPV remain low.

Four out of five people will get HPV at some point in their lives, and while most infections clear on their own, some persist and cause cancer in both men and women. The HPV vaccine can prevent more than 90 percent of HPV-related cancers from ever developing.

Despite the HPV vaccine’s cancer-preventing power, data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) indicate that only 51% of 13-17-year olds in all 64 Colorado counties have initiated the HPV vaccine series and that only 37% have completed the series. These rates are far below the Healthy People 2030 goal of 80% vaccination coverage. 

The HPV vaccine provides powerful protection.

Studies show that the vaccine has already led to a marked decrease in the number of HPV infections in young people – 86% in females ages 14-19 and 71% in females in their early 20s. The HPV vaccine provides almost 100% protection against the kinds of HPV that most often lead to cancer in men and women.

“This is a very effective vaccine available to adolescents, teens, and young adults. It can prevent cancer–it’s literally saving lives!” said Elisha Lehrhoff, an HPV vaccine advocate. “I want to encourage parents to consider the HPV vaccine for their adolescents to prevent future cancers. Your adolescent’s doctor is an excellent resource for any questions you might have about the HPV vaccine.”

The HPV vaccine is safe.

The HPV vaccine has been monitored for safety for over 16 years. Further, the CDC states “[w]ith more than 134 million doses of HPV vaccines distributed in the United States, there are robust data showing that HPV vaccines are safe.” Just as with any vaccine, your child may experience side effects such as pain or redness at the site of injection. Still, many parents have concerns. That’s completely natural and if you have questions, the best resource for answers is your family’s healthcare provider. You can also visit www.HPVFreeCO.org for more information.

The bottom line.

With the HPV vaccine, we have the opportunity to give our children a gift that will help ensure their health and well-being into adulthood and throughout their lifespan. Many cancers are unfortunately not preventable. But those caused by HPV are. The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention. There is a vaccine against cancer; won’t you get it for your kids? 

The Alliance for HPV Free Colorado is a regional collaborative led by the Public Health Institute at Denver Health. The Alliance aims to implement a multidisciplinary approach that results in a sustainable increase in completion of the HPV vaccine series for 9-17 year olds across Colorado. The Alliance is supported by the Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease Grants Program to address cancer. Partners include the Public Health Institute at Denver Health, Jefferson County Public Health, Boulder County Public Health, Weld County Department of Public Health & Environment, Northeast Colorado Health Department, Immunize Colorado, Oral Cancer Consulting and the Adult and Child Consortium for Health Outcomes Research and Delivery Science (ACCORDS).

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