Paul A. Offit, MD, explains that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is a cancer-preventing vaccine; it prevents the types of HPV viruses that cause cancer in 25,000 people every year. It’s very important to give the vaccine before children become sexually active and thus susceptible to these viruses.
Why is the HPV vaccine given to children at 11-12 years of age?
Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit, and I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And what I thought we could talk about was the human papillomavirus vaccine, or HPV vaccine. Sometimes parents ask the question, "Why does my child need to get this vaccine at 11 to 12 years of age? Can't they just get it a little later?" Because the parent knows that HPV virus, that virus is really only transmitted by sexual contact. An 11- to 12-year old is unlikely to have had sexual contact. So, "Can I just give it later when my adolescent is a little older?"
The thing about the HPV vaccine though, is it's only a prophylactic, or preventive vaccine. It's not a therapeutic vaccine. And surprisingly, actually, a fairly high percentage of children will start to have sex by the time that they're 15 years old. So you want to make sure that the child has gotten that vaccine before that happens.
You really also need that sort of six months window before the child is gonna be fully protected. So the earlier the better. It's a vaccine that is very likely to last for the rest of the child's life. And so it's important to give it before the child has sexual contact.
And I think the most important thing to remember, so that we don't have to continue to talk about sex regarding this vaccine, is that it's a cancer-preventing vaccine. That vaccine will prevent the types of HPV that cause cancer in 25,000 people a year. Those types cause 4,000 deaths a year in the United States. And this is a way that you can protect your child from getting cancer. And it's important to give them that vaccine before they possibly get infected with these viruses, at which point it would be too late.
Thank you for your attention.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Apr 23, 2015