As a provider, you will need to be prepared to answer questions about HPV vaccine from parents/guardians and patients. Therefore, based on the provided resources and your understanding of immunization recommendations, how can you explain why HPV is recommended and at what age(s).

The main goal of the HPV vaccine is to protect individuals from certain cancers caused by the human papillomavirus before they are exposed to the virus, which is commonly transmitted through sexual contact. According to Markowitz & Unger (2023), genital HPV infection is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It typically infects epithelial tissues and is mostly transmitted through sexual contact. Most HPV infections go unnoticed; over 90% of these infections either clear up or become undetectable within one to two years. However, if certain types of HPV persist, they can develop into cervical cancer or other anogenital cancers, including those of the vagina, vulva, penis, and anus, as well as oropharyngeal cancer, over several years. HPV infection typically arises around the time individuals start engaging in sexual activities, and cervical precancers are found later, often during cervical cancer screenings conducted at various ages. Cervical cancer itself is generally diagnosed several decades following the initial infection. Routine HPV vaccination is advised for girls at 11 or 12 years old, though it can begin as early as 9 years of age. (Alexander et al., 2023). Vaccination is also recommended up to the age of 26 for those who have not been previously vaccinated (catch-up vaccination) (Markowitz & Unger, 2023). It is ideal to vaccinate individuals before they begin sexual activity.

Mary’s mother does not believe that her daughter needs HPV vaccine because she is not sexually active.  She is concerned about her daughter viewing this vaccine as a license to practice unsafe sex. 

How can you answer the questions in a sensitive way but still provide recommendations for the vaccine?

It’s important to first acknowledge the mother’s concern. The mother needs to be educated that the HPV vaccine is a medical intervention to prevent serious health issues later in life like other vaccines, such as measles or whooping cough. The vaccine is most effective when administered before any exposure to the virus, which is why it is recommended for Mary’s age group. The main intention of the HPV vaccine is not related to a child’s sexual activity, but a preventive measure against cancers caused by HPV that she could be at risk for in the future. The vaccine has been extensively tested for safety and efficacy, offering long-lasting protection against HPV infections and associated diseases (Sundstrom & Elfstrom, 2020). By significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer, as well as other cancers such as vaginal, vulvar, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers, the vaccine provides a shield against potentially life-threatening diseases (Cheng et al., 2020). Additionally, it helps prevent uncomfortable and embarrassing genital warts, which can stem from HPV infection (Sundstrom & Elfstrom, 2020). Vaccination also contributes to herd immunity, benefiting both vaccinated individuals and those who cannot receive the vaccine (Cheng et al., 2020). With its proven long-lasting protection and rigorous safety testing, the HPV vaccine is a safe and effective measure in safeguarding the health and well-being of teenage girls, offering peace of mind for both individuals and communities alike.

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