When a vaccine for preventing the human papillomavirus debuted less than a decade ago, the thought of vaccinating children for a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer caused an uproar. But science has continued to win in this debate, and now a local education campaign of health professionals and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor aims to spread the word. Vaccinating both girls and boys, ideally when entering seventh grade, gives them the best long-term chance of warding off cervical, oral and other types of reproductive cancers.
The vaccine, which is administered in three doses over a six-month period, helps the body build immunity to HPV, which can lead to cancer. HPV is so common, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly all sexually active men and women will be exposed to it in their lives. Introducing the vaccine at a young age gives the body the best chance to build immunity.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for those 11 to 26 years old, but it is most effective at ages 11 to 12. The vaccine was marketed to females, but now health professionals and the CDC recommend males receive it too.
Florida's track record so far, however, is the worst in the nation when it comes to giving its youth extra insurance against contracting cancer. Florida's estimated rate of female adolescents aged 13 to 17 who receive all three doses of the HPV vaccination is only 25.3 percent, compared to the national average rate of 33.4 percent.
The vaccine is expensive, upwards of $500 — but that's a pittance compared to the cost of treating cancer. And many insurance companies cover the preventive care. For the uninsured, HPV is included in the federal Vaccines for Children program, which covers the cost and can be accessed through local county health departments.
Doctors are becoming more informed and encouraging vaccinations, but this is also an opportunity for parents to teach their children that it's never too early for preventive health practices. This summer is the perfect time to start.