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Teen Vaccines

What parents need to know

what parents need to know about HPV vaccine

When parents think about immunizations for their children, protections for infants usually come to mind.

But, usually around the start of the school year or when it’s time for a sports team try-out physical exam, parents realize that preteens and teens need shots, too.

According to Dr. Maria Reyes, a pediatrician with Middletown Medical, the immunization list for pre-teens and teens includes Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis [whooping cough]), meningococcal vaccine, flu vaccine and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

For the record

Although flu vaccines aren’t required for public school attendance , the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends them for everyone, as every year, influenza – an airborne virus spread from coughing and sneezing – causes everything from mild to severe illness to those infected.

READ MORE: Immunizing your school-aged child

Another vaccination that is considered optional is HPV. According to the CDC, HPV is a common virus that spreads by genital contact. About 14 million people become infected with HPV each year. HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women, penile cancer in men and genital warts, anal and throat cancer in both men and women – although not all of these cancers are caused by HPV.

“The HPV vaccine protects against nine strains of the Human Papilloma Virus, which are responsible for 90% of genital warts that cause genital cancer, some cancers of the mouth and throat and anus,” Dr. Reyes says.

Christine Scalici McGuigan made sure that her daughter was vaccinated against the HPV vaccine.

“I've had my own scares with precancerous cervical cells, and didn't want her to experience that,” says the Poughkeepsie mother. “I did the research, and felt the benefits outweighed the risks.”

Santa Byrne had her daughter vaccinated as well. “Frankly, I was nervous because it was so new and I thought it was a live virus, so ignorance on my part,” she says. “In the end, my son and other daughter will be getting it, too.”

HPV drawbacks

The vaccine does not protect against other STDs, though.

“…The [HPV] vaccine has minor side effects, including pain and redness at the vaccination site, and occasional fever, nausea and dizziness.” Dr. Reyes adds.

READ MORE: Local parents and pediatricians speak out about vaccines for baby

Those may be a few of the reasons some parents are opting out of their children receiving the vaccination.

I will not get them vaccinated for that because, through some research I did I believe the risks of the vaccine outweigh the risks of HPV,” says Catherine Montiero, a Poughkeepsie mother of two boys. “Especially because in most cases it clears up on its own.”

Dr. Reyes says that most of the time, parents decide against HPV because they don’t believe their child needs it as they are not sexually active.

“They are also afraid of the side effects because they heard that it can cause teens to be very sick,” she adds. “HPV vaccine is recommended at age 11-12, which is the perfect time because children at this age [may] not think about engaging in sexual activity yet.”

But, she adds, half of all new infections are diagnosed with girls between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

“[The vaccine] will give them time to develop a good immune response, which means they develop soldier cells in their bodies ready to fight off the HPV virus when they come in contact with it in the future,” Dr. Reyes says.

Dr. Reyes says that she tells parents about the mild HPV vaccine side effects and that the most common one she encounters is pain at the injection site, much like the other vaccines.

READ MORE: Doctor Q&A for first-time parents

“I tell them that I highly recommend the vaccine because it is the only vaccine we have that actually prevents cancer,” she says. “There are a lot of scary stories from friends, relatives, and the internet about vaccines, so it is hard to separate facts from fiction. As a doctor I will never recommend anything to my patients that I know will cause them more harm than good.”

Dr. Reyes recommends talking frankly with your child’s pediatrician and asking questions.

“This may alleviate some of your concerns and help to debunk some of the myths going around about vaccines,” she says. “You can then make a more informed decision about your teen’s vaccines.”

For more information on teens and vaccinations, visit and the section on immunizations.


Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer who lives in Poughkeepsie and is a regular contributor to Hudson Valley Parent.

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