In June, the FDA licensed a new vaccine (Gardasil) for the prevention of cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women and the CDC recommends that (three doses of) the vaccine be given to girls when they are 11 – 12 years old (but can be given between 9 and 26 years old).
The idea is to vaccinate girls before they become sexually active, but all sexually active women should receive the vaccination, too. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is the most common in people in their teens and 20s.
How can parents tell their daughters about the new vaccine? If you are a parent who has already starting talking with your preteen or teen about their changing body and sexual issues, this will not be difficult. You can explain that this vaccine protects her from a sexually transmitted disease that is linked to cervical cancer, and that professionals recommend every young girl get vaccinated (with three doses) before she is sexually active.
If you have not started these conversations, this is your opportunity. One could say, “it prevents cancer” and leave it at that, but that is not really accurate. If you are going to protect your child, start the talk. Begin with stating your values clearly – I expect that you will not have sex until [insert age or context]. Then talk about the importance of knowing how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, birth control, sexually transmitted infection, and the importance of using condoms.
If you think that your daughter, at age 11 is too young to hear about sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, and condoms, think again. National surveys have found that about 7% of children have had sexual intercourse before age 13, and about 25% have done so by age 15. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 6 million new cases of HPV each year – many of them in teens and young adults.
The vaccine has been tested with thousands of women and is considered effective without serious side effects and will be given in three injections over a six-month period. Talk to your parents and doctor about getting vaccinated. Most insurance companies cover vaccinations.