Georgia mom says HPV vaccine an easy choice

Nicole Linton says her 15-year old son Richard and 11-year old daughter Naomi are opposites who complement each other.

"Naomi is lots of energy very talkative," Linton says. "My son is very much an introvert, very quiet and thoughtful."

But the Mableton, Georgia, siblings share one thing in common: both have been vaccinated against HPV, or the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease tied to genital warts and a half dozen types of cancer.

Experts estimate as many as 80 million Americans have some type of HPV, making the virus the most common sexually transmitted illness.

Linton says her sister told her about the vaccine, and her decision to get it for both kids, wasn't difficult.

"It was for personal reasons," Linton says. "My mother had breast cancer. She was very young. She was 47. My father-in-law battled cancer 3 times."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 92% of cancers caused by HPV, like cervical cancer, anal cancer, and tongue and tonsil cancer, could be prevented if the U.S. could get its vaccinations rate up to 80 percent nationwide.

The CDC recommends boys and girls get vaccinated as early as age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active and are exposed to the virus.

If the first dose is given before a teen turns 15, he or she will only need two doses. If a teen receives the first dose after their fifteenth birthday, he or she will need three doses.

But in 2018, the CDC says, only a little over half of teens between 13-17 were getting the full series of shots.  

Dr. Justin Chura, a gynecologic oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta, considers the vaccine "a game changer" when it comes to preventing the kinds of cancers he sees every day. But Dr. Chura knows some parents may be reluctant to vaccinate young teens against a sexually-transmitted disease.

"There have been no data to show that because of the vaccine adolescents are becoming sexually active at a younger age or being more promiscuous," Dr. Chura says.  "There's no data that, pre- and post-vaccine, there has been a change in attitude or behaviors.

I remember someone saying years ago, when this came you, 'Well, do seatbelts lead to risky driving? No. They save lives.'  The same with the vaccine."

Linton says she's talked to her son, a high school sophomore, about HPV.

"I will have the same conversation with my daughter, and teach them there is a responsibility that comes with this (vaccine)," she says. "But HPV, it's not about being responsible or irresponsible. Things happen, and it's your job to be not only responsible but for your parents to protect you as much as possible. And, if I can protect them from something like this, I'm going to do it."

The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are fainting, a local reaction at the injection site, dizziness, nausea and headache.

The HPV vaccine ranges in price from $130 to $170 a dose. Many health insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine.

For those without insurance, local health departments often offer free or low-cost vaccinations for residents who are uninsured.