Getting a shot can be a painful and anxiety-ridden experience. So teens scheduled for the three-shot vaccine series to protect against human papillomavirus, or HPV, might be relieved to hear that one of the shots is no longer needed.
Health officials this week said two doses of the vaccine that protects against cervical and several other types of cancer are enough for 11- to 12-year-olds, rather than the previous three-shot regimen.
The CDC now recommends that 11- to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart.
“Safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against HPV cancers with two visits instead of three means more Americans will be protected from cancer,” said Tom Frieden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, in a statement. “This recommendation will make it simpler for parents to get their children protected in time.”
The CDC now recommends that 11- to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Adolescents aged 13 and 14 can also receive the two-dose schedule, but teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26, will continue to need three doses, the agency said.
The goal is to protect teens against the virus before they become sexually active.
“HPV is an epidemic and highly contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI) known to cause precancerous and cancer changes in the cervix, anus, penis, head, neck, and throat,” Sherry Ross, M.D., OB/GYN, and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California, told LifeZette in a previous interview.
Most infections do not cause symptoms and go away on their own — but the virus is still a leading cause of cancer deaths among women worldwide. Since the virus can also cause genital warts and cancers of the anus and mouth/throat, the vaccine is recommended for both sexes.
“In the United States, [cervical cancer] was one of the most common killers 50 years ago, but is now 14th on the list,” said Steve Vasilev, M.D., medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and a professor at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.
He added that the reduction is largely due to screening with the Pap test; it was then further reduced by screening for HPV. Now, with an effective vaccine against HPV, doctors are in a position to all but eliminate this disease.
“This is an evolving story as the vaccines are changing in composition and the types of HPV they are targeting. However, regarding the formulations used to date, all scientific data point to a very safe profile. There are no known serious consequences of this vaccine. There are always going to be some side effects to anything, but the adverse events are largely pain at the injection sites, fever, headaches, and even rare hospitalizations for reasons probably not directly related to the vaccine,” said Vasiley.
For families debating the merits of the vaccine, Vasilev said the HPV vaccine has a very good safety profile. That should be weighed against reducing the risk of pain, suffering, and death from cervical cancer and its precursors.