But our experts say COVID-19 should not derail critical preventive care for kids. That includes the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was really about just stopping your life, shutting everything down, and making sure that you didn’t get exposed to anyone or anything,” says Michael Roth, M.D., co-director of MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program.
Now, Roth says, we have to shift our mindset and think about how we can protect ourselves against COVID-19 and also keep ourselves and our families healthy and protected from other preventable diseases long-term.
Here are three things parents should know about the HPV vaccine during COVID-19.
The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective cancer prevention vaccine
About 80% of men and women will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical, anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It reduces the risk of most HPV-related cancers of the throat and the penis. It also prevents HPV-related genital warts.
“The HPV vaccine is safe and highly effective. We know it works,” says Roth. “It’s the only vaccine we have that can prevent invasive types of cancer.”
The vaccine is especially important for childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. They are at a significantly higher risk for getting HPV-related cancers in adulthood.
“As important as these recommendations are for the general public, they are extremely important for our cancer survivors,” says Roth. “It’s vital that high risk populations get vaccinated against HPV.”
The earlier you get the HPV vaccine, the better
The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to kids between 9 and 14, with a follow up booster shot within six months to a year.
HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. So why vaccinate at such a young age? “It’s a great vaccine, but it works best if you haven’t been exposed to HPV,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D. “The vaccine works best if you get it before you’re exposed to the virus. It’s also more effective for immune memory the earlier you get it.”
Beginning at age 15, three shots are needed. The vaccine can be given up to age 26. But again, the earlier you get the shot, the better it works, and the less likely you have already been exposed to the virus.
Men and women age 27 to 45 should talk to their doctor about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.
You can take steps to keep yourself and your kids safe during COVID-19
Both Ramondetta and Roth urge parents to talk to their pediatrician in advance of a visit to find out what steps they have in place to protect patients and visitors from infection. Ask the following:
Are masks required for all patients, visitors and staff?
How are you ensuring that kids who are healthy and asymptomatic are not exposed to patients who are coming in with COVID-19 symptoms?
What steps are you taking to keep the waiting room sanitized?
“You definitely want to be comfortable and should be confident that the setting that you are going to receive the vaccination in is practicing COVID precautions,” says Ramondetta. “As long as your doctor’s office is following the recommended social distancing and mask guidelines, we really do feel that that seeing your family practitioner is safe.”
“Putting basic health care off for another six months or another year, it’s really not safe and potentially you’ll be doing a lot more harm than good,” he says. “I really do believe that it’s safe to bring your child in for their necessary care.”