This post is made possible with support from the American Cancer Society. All opinions are my own.
From the moment we hold our babies, we want to give them the best that life can offer. We start to think of all the milestones that we will celebrate — first steps, first days of school, first lacrosse goal scored, graduations — while protecting them from dangers seen and unseen.
2020 has been a year of protection from the unseen. The year came in, and within three months, we were shutting down schools and churches. Life as we knew it seemed to change within the blink of an eye.
Everyone went into protection mode. Almost every store was out of the basic food staples, sanitizing wipes, and toilet tissue. As the days went by, we quickly learned that COVID-19 had hit the United States hard, and precautions were needed. Masks, hand washing, and social distancing are now part of our routine as many try to navigate this new normal.
But what else should you be doing to protect your children?
Vaccinations provide an added layer of protection against things unseen. If the goal is to give our kids the best fighting chance, then we must talk about vaccinations. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, I was riddled with fear, hoping that cancer was not in my children’s future.
Despite changing our lifestyle, participating in clinical trials, and genetic testing, I still felt like I was missing something. The internet introduced me to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and I immediately reached out to my oncologist and pediatrician because the HPV vaccine is cancer prevention.
What is HPV?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can lead to six types of cancers later in life. Currently, over 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected each year. HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.
Eighty percent of adults have been exposed to or contracted HPV in their lifetime, and no one knows why the virus goes away or develops into cancer.
COVID-19 is not the only virus that we should be concerned about. In Texas, only 43.5% of kids have received the HPV vaccine. Texas ranks 39th out of 50 states for HPV vaccine rates among children ages 13 to 17.
Is the HPV Vaccine Safe?
The HPV vaccine is 90% effective in preventing six different types of cancer. Since being approved in 2006, over 120 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been distributed with supporting data showing that it is safe and effective. The vaccine is not infectious and has similar side effects to other adolescent vaccines or flu vaccines. The CDC and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) continue to monitor the vaccine to make certain it remains safe and effective.
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
The vaccine works best when given to children between the ages of 9 and 12 as their immune system is at its peak. Your pediatrician can provide best practices for older children.
How Can We Protect Our Kids?
Schedule an appointment with a trusted pediatrician and discuss your child’s age appropriateness for vaccines such as HPV vaccination. My pediatrician is on speed dial, and over the years, we have had countless discussions about everything. I always ask, “what would she do if it were her child” when we discuss any procedures. During a wellness visit, we discussed the HPV vaccine, and like a lot of parents, I wanted to say “no.” Transitioning to a more organic lifestyle taught me that our bodies could heal themselves, but I forgot about those unseen dangers.
Cancer is often an unseen danger, and my diagnosis was not genetically connected. Without a familial history, no one could have predicted that I would have been diagnosed. The vaccine gives me peace of mind that it is protecting my kids. My children hate the idea of needles, and I always tell them that I would never let anyone hurt them without a good reason.
During our discussion, I reminded them why helmets and goggles are required to play lacrosse. This protective gear is intended to prevent sports-related injuries much like the vaccine prevents health-related “injuries.” We would never let our kids play without protective gear, and families should take this same approach to the HPV vaccine. It is an added layer of protection that no kid should go without.
Be honest and age-appropriate with your children about the importance of preventing what you can. We want kids to make correct decisions when dealing with their health. As you make back-to-school appointments and checklists for questions to ask, add the HPV vaccine to the list.
For more details on the Human Papillomavirus visit the American Cancer Society.