Social media reacted in an uproar recently to the new legislation passed by the Rhode Island Department of Health mandating all seventh graders receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine before returning to school for the 2015-2016 school year.

Parents and others were worried, posting such questions as “Is it safe?” “What effects can it have on my child?” and “Is it really necessary at such a young age?”

Dr. Katina Robison, a gynecologic oncologist with the Program in Women’s Oncology at Women & Infants Hospital, advocates for early delivery of the vaccine.

“I think the legislation is very progressive of Rhode Island. Rhode Island already has the highest rate of HPV vaccination which is significant because the vaccination is cancer-preventing,” Dr. Robison says.

The vaccine does not protect against sexually-transmitted diseases, but rather against more than 40 strains of HPV, some of which can cause the following types of cancers:

  • Cervical.
  • Vaginal.
  • Oral.
  • Vulvar.
  • Anal.

“Many of these types of cancers are on the rise and, for some of them, we do not even have screenings which means they can go completely undetected,” Dr. Robison notes.

According to the Center for Disease Control, HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over six months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that the infection can cause. Two of the three types of HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Gardasil 9) also protect against genital warts and anal cancer in both females and males. HPV infection is spread sexually, but it’s important to vaccinate at a younger age.

Dr. Robison explains that receiving the vaccination early on is better for two main reasons:

  • Children’s immune systems are stronger and react better to the vaccine.
  • To develop an immune response before becoming sexually active.

If you have questions about the HPV vaccine, ask your child’s pediatrician.

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