A reader writes in response to Thursday’s post about the HPV vaccine:

“Even if the vaccine is safe, why is it, as you say, a ‘very important’ vaccine?”

I’m glad you asked!

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States.  It causes genital warts in both men and women.  Genital warts are quite common.  We’ve seen our share of teenagers in the office with them and, aside from the embarrassment it causes, genital warts are often difficult and painful to treat.

But the HPV vaccine was not developed to prevent warts.  It was created to prevent cancer.  HPV causes cervical cancer, which is, worldwide, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women.  It also causes cancer of the head and neck, especially the tongue and throat, in BOTH men and women.  In fact, HPV has surpassed tobacco and alcohol as the leading cause of oral cancer in humans.

So HPV vaccine is truly an anti-cancer vaccine.  We give it beginning at 11 years old because teenagers engage in sexual activity quite frequently (average age of first sexual intercourse in the U.S. is 17 for both men and women) and we want to have kids protected before they become sexually active.  We use Gardasil in our office, which requires three injections (at 0, 2, and 6 months to be completely protected).

The HPV vaccine has been very well studied and is safe and effective.

That’s why we give HPV vaccine.  That is why it is so important.

More on HPV infection here, here, here, here, and here.