A year ago I knew, in general, about the human papillomavirus (HPV). I had no idea how much more I was going to learn when I joined co-workers at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) on a statewide CDC funded campaign to raise awareness and increase the number of people protected against this virus.
I began talking to my two sons, ages 13 and 11, about the campaign. And soon after, those talks became discussions about why they needed to be vaccinated. There were some challenges early on.
Honestly, sexually transmitted disease and needles are not their favorite topics of conversation. While those topics were addressed, they quickly became less of the focus. Instead, we were talking about how less than five seconds of discomfort can protect you and others against conditions that last much longer and are much worse.
I shared the information I learned through campaign research. Seventy-nine million people in the U.S. have HPV. It is very common. While many don’t know they are infected, and fewer still will experience adverse effects, the point is it’s out there, and you can prevent it from affecting you. And if you don’t, the dangers range from genital warts to cervical cancer. The kids didn’t want any part of those things.
As a dad, I must say, I am quite proud of both of my boys, who didn’t whine or complain when the day came to get their immunizations. As part of their back-to-school series of vaccinations, it was easy to tell them, “these are the shots you need, and you remember why you need to have them.” HPV became just a part of the big picture and by lunchtime they had completely moved on to their summertime fun with no complaints of soreness or other small side-effects that can sometimes occur. I later asked them how they thought it went - the older one said it didn’t hurt, and the younger one, who had received four shots, couldn’t tell one from the other.
While working on this campaign, I learned that often kids are not vaccinated because parents don’t think their child is old enough or they think since their kids aren’t sexually active they’re not at risk for HPV. But what many people don’t realize is that HPV is not just transmitted through sexual intercourse – HPV is transmitted through oral sex, too. That may be a big factor in the 14 million new HPV infections in the U.S. each year. Even some healthcare providers are reluctant to recommend HPV vaccinations to parents because they anticipate a negative reaction to the idea.
I was glad to see signs promoting HPV vaccinations clearly displayed at the county health department where my sons were vaccinated. And glad that I was asked while signing them up if I wanted them to receive the HPV vaccination, which was strongly recommended. I of course said ‘yes,’ and there was no out-of-pocket cost. At the end of the day, my boys and I now have one less health issue to worry about - HPV.