We all make choices in life. Some decisions are more crucial than others. For example, last night I had to decide whether or not I should eat that third cookie. Not crucial – until I try to zip up my jeans. (I ate the cookie.)
We also make healthcare choices every single day.
Is that cookie really necessary?
Did I get enough steps in today?
Do I routinely wash my hands?
Do I have regular check-ups with my healthcare provider?
…Are my vaccinations up-to-date?
Parents want and need to remain as healthy as possible to care for their kids, whatever that definition of health is for the individual. Parents want their children to remain as healthy as possible, too. One way in which we can accomplish this is through preventative medicine. And what can be better preventative medicine than vaccines? Amiright?
The flu vaccine is at the top of my list when it comes to routine vaccines. I get mine each year. Last year the flu killed 185 kids. 80% of those had not been vaccinated. Not to scare you, but, okay I’m trying to scare you.
The other vaccine that is near and dear to my heart is the HPV vaccine. Human papillomavirus is an annoying little buggar. Actually, there are about 150 strains of this virus. Each one is cleverly named with a number. This virus is responsible for genital warts and also for a variety of cancers such as cervical, anal, oral, and penile to name a few.
How does one contract HPV? Sexual contact. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). This STI is really quite common. In fact, not to freak you out, but if you’ve had sex there is a good chance you’ve had a strain of HPV. The good news is, our bodies can typically fight it off. Phew. The bad news is, sometimes it can’t. When that happens, genital warts and genital and oral cancer may occur. In fact, 99% of cervical cancer is cause by HPV.
In other words, the cancer prevention vaccine we’ve all been waiting for is here!
When do we get the vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is called Gardasil 9, aptly named because it protects against the 9 strains of HPV known to cause genital warts and cancer. Youngsters are vaccinated around age 11-14, typically with a 2-dose series. We can protect children from diseases caused by HPV before they become sexually active – before they are exposed to the virus.
From ages 15-26, the individual will receive a series of three injections. Recently, the FDA approved Gardasil 9 for individuals aged 27-45 to receive the vaccine as well. Think about it: How many adults are emerging from monogomous marriages due to divorce or death? Suddenly swiping left and right becomes a thing and their risk for STIs increase. Often older adults forego birth control for obvious reasons but forget to protect against disease. Their sexually transmitted infection rates are climbing.
But don’t listen to me…
There has been a media push to educate parents about the benefits of HPV vaccination. Some people say they are guilt-tripping parents into getting the vaccine for their kids. Others say they are educating parents into getting the vaccine for their kids. I say we are doing both. Because most young people have not had the vaccine, we must create awareness. Many healthcare providers avoid the conversation with parents because of the “sexual activity” piece. So parents, it’s on you. Bring it up to your doctor and educate yourself. Your future-adult-kids are counting on you.
The vaccine will make my kids want to have sex!
Nope. Just no.
Think about it. Do you go into great detail about the vaccines your child is receiving each time they see their doctor? Or do you simply state, “Today you will get your shots.”? How will they know which diseases Gardasil is preventing if you don’t tell them?
Which brings me to my next point. Why won’t you tell them? What a fantastic opportunity to have the conversation about sexual health, personal safety, and respecting one’s body. The age of your child will determine exactly what you say, but at 11, they are ready for the basics, at the very least.
Vaccinating against HPV will not encourage promiscuous behavior. Neither will conversations about sex.
Talk openly and honestly with your child about sexuality. It will help them make informed decisions about sex.
So, what choice will you make?