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Does my sexually innocent daughter really need the HPV shot?

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The question

My 13-year-old daughter is still quite sexually innocent (no I'm not delusional). Is the HPV vaccine really necessary?

The answer

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The short answer? Yes. Absolutely.

HPV vaccine in a 13-year-old girl is recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society, but it is indeed a very controversial vaccine. As you noted, not all teenagers are sexually active and some teens have determined that they will remain that way until they get married.

Those who oppose the vaccine claim that it's not needed if teens do not engage in premarital sex - and vaccinating our daughters therefore gives them permission to have sex.

The makers of the product (Merck) provided data to the FDA, suggesting that the earlier one gets vaccinated, the better the immune response.

HPV - the human papiloma virus - is a sexually transmitted disease which increases the risk of cervical cancer. If a girl remains a virgin until she is married, but marries a man who did not make the same choice - and therefore could be carrying HPV - she will be at risk for getting infected by HPV.

All provinces are offering the HPV vaccine to girls (although age/grade varies - for more details, check out this website).

Researchers have determined that girls as young as eight should get the vaccine; however, polls show that the vast majority of parents are not comfortable with this recommendation.

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Since the vaccine was introduced, the number of cases of pre-cancer and cancer of the cervix dropped. The vaccine is safe and covers only 70 per cent of the HPV strains associated with cervical cancer. Sexually-active girls who get the vaccine still have to go for regular pap smears to make sure they don't develop cervical cancer.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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