The HPV vaccine has been used in the U.S. since 2006 for girls and a few years later for boys to protect against the two most common strains of HPV. The CDC wants to get the message out to parents, using the HPV vaccine gives the next generation a powerful new tool to fight against cancer.

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is extremely common; nearly everyone picks up different strains of this virus during their lifetimes, and most are harmless. However, a few strains of this ordinary virus are capable of causing cancer and are linked to cancers of the head and neck, cervix and other less common cancers in nearly 27,000 American men and women every year.

“HPV vaccine prevents cancer,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “That is a remarkable upside and one I made sure my own children took advantage of years ago. I urge parents to ask for it and healthcare providers to make it their clinical practice. Why wouldn’t we want to make cervical cancer and other cancers a thing of the past in Tennessee?”

A newer version protects against five additional less-common cancer-causing HPV strains. Because the vaccine’s protection is very long lasting, especially when given to younger children, it is ideal to give it to preteens along with their tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster (Tdap) and their first dose of meningitis vaccine. Long-lasting protection comes from three doses, given over about six months. Older teens and young adults should get the vaccine if they did not get it as preteens. It has been nearly a decade since doctors began using this vaccine, but in that time most young men and women who can benefit from the vaccine have not had it.

“We all want the children we love to have the best chances for a long and healthy life, and that is why my preteen niece and nephew are getting all recommended vaccines, especially this one.” said Kelly Moore, MD, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “The HPV vaccine is a very important part of lifetime cancer prevention because it is proven safe, effective and long-lasting.”

“Starting the vaccine series is one thing,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD, “but getting three doses in six months is a challenge in any busy family. The good news is that if you have already started and are behind schedule, you can just pick up where you left off; you never have to start over. In Tennessee fewer than half of teens have started the vaccine and, sadly, fewer than one in five has been fully vaccinated. That means most of Tennessee’s young people are at risk of common HPV-related cancers in their lifetimes and they don’t need to be.”

Moore and Jones encourage adults over age 26 who are past the age for recommended vaccination to continue the important screening and health habits that catch HPV cancers early. This includes seeing a dentist who can check your oral health and getting periodic Pap tests to check for cervical pre-cancers in women.

The HPV vaccine is available through most healthcare providers and all county health departments. Children and teens under age 19 without private insurance coverage for the vaccine may receive HPV vaccine and all other routine vaccines through most healthcare providers and all health departments for only a small administration fee through the federal Vaccines for Children program.

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