How to talk to your pre-teen about the HPV vaccine

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that boys ages 11 or 12 receive the HPV vaccine in a three-dose series, which can be started as early as 9 years old.

Courtesy MCN Healthcare

How do you explain what the HPV vaccine is to a nine-year-old boy?

Well, that’s up to parents to decide.

So you will have your facts straight, however, we asked  Michelle Huddleston, M.D.  a member of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to explain why the HPV vaccine is on the schedule for pre-teen girls, and now boys, too.

Vaccines are designed to prevent diseases, says Dr. Huddleston, who practices at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. This vaccine is no different.

The HPV vaccine provides protection from certain subtypes of the HPV virus long before boys and young men (and young women) become engaged in any type of sexual activity. 

HPV transmission can happen with any kind of genital contact and intercourse isn’t necessary, adds Dr. Huddleston, who says that many people who have HPV infection are without signs or symptoms and unknowingly pass the virus to their partner.

The HPV vaccine is most effective in the pre-teen age group producing higher antibody levels than in older patients. So, that’s why the vaccine is on the schedule for pre-teen boys and girls.

Talking about the purpose of the vaccine might be a conversation starter for a talk about sex. Dr. Huddleston says that although feeling nervous about broaching the subject with kids is fairly common, she suggests  that as parents,  we should try to consider sexuality a normal topic of conversation.

“Certainly by the time your child starts to exhibit the physical changes of puberty, questions will start to arise,” says Dr. Huddleston. “Be certain to listen, answer honestly and by approachable. You may start the conversation by asking, ‘What do you know about sexuality?’ and see where the conversation leads.

Dr. Huddleston recommends  www.youngwomenshealth.org as a good resource for parents as they prepare to talk to kids about sex.

Another update on the vaccine schedule is the age at which the meningococcal vaccine can be given.

Children as young as 9 months can get the vaccine if they are residents or travelers to countries with epidemic disease or at increased risk of developing meningococcal disease, says the AAP.

Routine immunization with the meningococcal vaccine should begin at 11 through 12 years with a booster dose administered at 16 years of age.

So who is at greatest risk for developing meningococcal disease? And what is it, exactly?

Children who do not have a spleen, have an abnormally functioning spleen or certain immune disorders are at increased risk of developing meningococcal disease, says Dr. Huddleston.

Teenagers are at increased risk of developing meningococcal disease by being in crowded places, living in close quarters, sharing drinking and or eating utensils or having a run-down immune system.

Meningococcal meningitis and septicemia can present with flu-like symptoms and patients can die within 24 hours. 

And, speaking of flu, there’s one more update on the vaccine schedule. 

For children aged 6 months through 8 years, the influenza vaccine should be administered in two doses for those who did not receive at least one dose of the vaccine in 2010-11, says the AAP.

Children who received one dose last season require one dose for the 2011-12 influenza season.

Questions about vaccines or this most recent schedule revision? We list resources below, but any parent who is unsure of what a vaccine is for or when it should be given to a child should check with the child’s health care provider.

More resources on vaccines:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Center for Young Women’s Health

The Arizona Partnership for Immunizations 

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website

 

 


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