In the age of social media, drama travels fast.
Parents of pre-teens and teens whose doctors recommend they receive the cancer-preventing Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine might find plenty of unsubstantiated reasons on the Internet to not get the vaccine: it’s easy for stories – true or not – to be uploaded to a chat room and read across the globe in a matter of hours.
Careful answers to parents’ basic concerns about safety and effectiveness take a lot longer. As a Congolese proverb reminds us: “Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but it gets here eventually.”
The safety monitoring of HPV vaccine has been a long walk up many steps. We now have over a decade of surveillance data on vaccine reactions since the original version of vaccine was licensed in 2006.
There are some common reactions – irritation at the injection site may occur, and some patients may get a fever or headache. Before administering the vaccine, your doctor will check with you about any possible contraindications. Anyone who has had a previous allergic reaction to the vaccine, or who has an allergy to yeast, should not be given the vaccine. Severe allergic reactions are very rare – CDC estimates they may occur in around one in a million doses. Your doctor’s staff will keep your child under observation for 15 minutes after the shot to treat possible fainting or anaphylactic reactions.
But the evidence is clear: for almost all adolescents, the benefits of HPV vaccine in preventing cancer and genital warts far outweigh the risks.