An open letter to parents everywhere:
Psst… Did you know you can protect your children against cancer and your future grandchildren against death from a fatal infection with a simple vaccination?
These illnesses are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a group of viruses that 75% of us will be exposed to by the time we’re 50 years old (most of us in our early 20s). We can protect our kids before the virus has a chance to strike by getting them immunized when they are young, preferably between the ages of 11 and 14.
After getting the shot, your child may complain about redness, swelling and tenderness at the site of the injection. But his or her immune system will now know how to fight. And you get to be the hero who protected your child from cancer! How cool is that?
HPV causes many types of warts and, worse, a number of cancers in the throat, mouth, and genitalia. HPV is the only cause of cervical cancer. That means that if we could protect against all types of HPV, no one would ever get cervical cancer again.
Have you or a friend ever worried about an abnormal Pap smear? That was HPV’s fault. HPV causes 39,000 cases of cancer in the US every year, including 11,500 cases of cervical cancer which go on to kill 4,000 women annually. Babies can get HPV as they pass through the birth canal, some of whom subsequently develop respiratory papillomatosis, an infection of their windpipe which can be fatal.
HPV is tricky because it doesn’t typically cause symptoms when it is first caught. It can take anywhere from eight months to two years for a person to fight it off, and the cancers can take up to 20 years to occur. By being so “quiet,” it allows people to pass it on without ever knowing they were infected in the first place.
Transmission of the virus from one person to another requires close physical contact of the kind that occurs in healthy, adult relationships. Close contact, not just sexual intercourse. And remember, 75% of people have been infected by HPV—healthy people participating in healthy relationships.
The HPV vaccine has been part of the routinely-recommended immunization schedule for over ten years. Both boys and girls are recommended to receive the vaccine between 11 and 12 years of age.
Why vaccinate them when they’re so young?
- Because the vaccine works better when they’re younger—so much better, that children who start the vaccine before the age of 15 only need two doses to achieve the same amount of protection that someone older would need three doses to achieve.
- Because the vaccine can’t cure the disease, only prevent it.
- Because your child will—eventually—be a healthy adult in a healthy relationship.
- And because, in the worst case scenario, our children don’t always get to choose the “who” or the “when” of their sexual exposures.
So choose to be the hero. Choose to protect your children from cancer.