This post is made possible with support from the American Cancer Society. All opinions are my own.
It’s scorching hot here today in Texas. One of those triple-digit days that makes you want to grab the kids, jump in the car, then go jump into a refreshing city pool. That’s not possible this summer, however. All of our city’s pools are closed due to an escalation of COVID-19 cases that shows no end in sight. “When will there be a vaccine?” people ask. “I’m so sick of this. We need a vaccine so we can get back to our normal lives.” That we do. I can only organize so many drawers before I completely lose what’s left of my delicate mind. Seriously, why do we own so many stupid ketchup packets?
Unfortunately, right now nobody knows when we’ll get that longed-for, much needed COVID-19 vaccine. (Hurry up, Scientists!) But what if I were to tell you that there’s another life-saving vaccine out there, one that prevents 90% of six types of cancers, yet more than half of the parents in Texas still don’t get it for their kids? That’s not my overheated brain talking. It’s true. Texas kids are way behind the rest of the nation in receiving the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine.
Introduced in 2006, the HPV vaccine stops the infection of the human papillomavirus, a common virus that can lead to six types of cancers. Without this vaccination that protects against specific cancer-related strains of the virus, it’s estimated that more than 8 out of 10 people will get HPV at some point in their lives. That means over 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. Most will be fine, but some will not be fine because HPV can cause cancer at some point in a child’s future. Some will get six different kinds of cancer. And if there’s anything recent events have taught us, even one infection, one preventable death, is one too many.
My sons are now 16 and 18, and they received their first of two HPV vaccines when they were 11-years-old. The CDC recommends all boys and girls get two doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11–12 to be most effective, but they can receive them as early as nine-years-old. Children who are younger than 15 only need two doses. Once they are 15+, they need three doses. And then the parent probably needs three doses of chocolate after listening to their teenager complain about it all day, which is why it’s better to do it in the preteen years. But I digress.
My first experience with the HPV vaccine was when my oldest son was at his yearly well-check at age 11, and his pediatrician listed the HPV vaccine as one of the shots he’d be getting that day. I remember that I felt a twinge of uncertainty because this was 2012, only six years after the HPV vaccine had been introduced, and it wasn’t yet a known, common thing like the measles, mumps, and other vaccines every parent (or most) expect to get for their children. My other reason for twinging was because HPV is a virus that’s transmitted by intimate skin-to-skin contact. Meaning, it’s transmitted through sexual activity. And when your kid is just 11 or 12, that’s probably one of the last things on your worry radar. You’re most likely more concerned about them throwing rocks at a potential paramour than getting an STD on prom night. So it’s an odd issue to think about.
But, because I trust Science and Medicine and Research and People In Lab Coats Except for the Ones at Clinique, and because I read that there are 150 types of HPV and 15 of them cause cancer, I made sure both of my boys got both of the HPV vaccine shots. It seemed too important, and the potential adult cancer risk too high, to refuse it. They both complained a bit as they did about every shot, but neither one of them had a single adverse reaction besides being disgusted that the pediatrician’s nurse offered them Frozen stickers on their way out. The nerve. But no adverse reaction is normal because the HPV vaccine is very safe, with over 270 million doses given to date to 2.5 million people in six countries.
While the HPV vaccine was an obvious “yes” to me, surprisingly, only 43.5% of kids in Texas have received it. Our state ranks 39th out of 50 states among children ages 13 to 17 getting the vaccine. This confuses me because I know parents in Texas do all they can to protect their children. I’ve been to enough Little League games to see that. I once watched a middle-aged mom mow down two coaches and an umpire on her way to help her son who scraped his knee on first base. Part of me suspects that the reason why we’re behind is that it’s one of those, “if I make sure my kids are safe during sex, they’re going to run out and have sex” archaic ways of thinking we have in this state, but I hope not. We’re talking about protecting your child from possible cancer here.
What should Texan parents do if they’re confused or undecided about this potentially life-saving vaccine for their children? How can you feel more comfortable about choosing to get the HPV vaccine if you’re unsure? Here’s how:
- Work with your doctor to keep up-to-date on vaccines and health checks, even during COVID-19
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine between the ages of 9 and 12. This can help
- Know that it may seem strange to prevent an STD when your child isn’t sexually active, but it’s important they get it at a young age
- Talk to other parents and guardians to hear their personal experience, but then read what experts like the CDC and the American Cancer Society say
- Relax and appreciate that this vaccine exists to make our children healthier and that’s a good thing for all of us
To learn more, visit the American Cancer Society’s comprehensive website about the HPV vaccine. Their information and resources are much better than what your neighbor Leslie posts on Facebook, trust me. Leslie is a moron. You can also check out the CDC’s HPV resource page.
If you’re still unsure about the HPV vaccine, here’s a statistic that struck me: More than 9 of every 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, but while it was once the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the US, the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening have now made it one of the most preventable cancers there is. How’s that for a success story?
The HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and it provides long-lasting protection. So let’s do better, Texas. Let’s get even more of our kids protected from HPV.
For more information about this, visit and/or follow the American Cancer Society at: