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Too many teens missing the protection of HPV shots

Feb. 6, 2019—Making sure kids get their HPV shots on time helps protect them from cancer when they grow up. But many preteens aren't getting the recommended shots early enough to do the most good, a new study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases finds.

The HPV vaccine helps guard against certain types of cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. Some HPV infections can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or throat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says boys and girls should get the HPV vaccine at ages 11 or 12—before they become sexually active. Despite that recommendation, the study found that only about 16 percent of adolescents were fully vaccinated against HPV by the time they turned 13.

Early is better

Vaccinating kids at 11 or 12 (as opposed to waiting until they're older) is better for a number of reasons. One is that the body's immune response to the vaccine is stronger at a younger age. So when kids are immunized on time, they may receive better protection from HPV infections and the cancers they may cause when they become adults.

In fact, when vaccination begins before they turn 15, adolescents only need two doses of the vaccine instead of the three they need if they start the series after they turn 15, according to CDC.

An important vaccine

HPV vaccinations may provide one of the best lines of defense against certain types of cancer. Consider this: Women can be screened for cervical cancer with regular Pap tests. But there are no screening tests for the other cancers HPV can cause. That's part of why prevention with the vaccine is so important.

So parents, the message is clear: For best protection, make sure your kids are vaccinated against HPV before they turn 13.

And if your kids are behind on their HPV shots? It's not too late to get caught up. Talk to your child's doctor if you have questions.

Find out more about the HPV vaccine.

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