Dr. George Van Buren, a board-certified Manatee County pediatrician who has practiced at MCR Health Services for 28 years, does not mince words when he talks to parents about vaccinations.
Van Buren said in his daily life, as senior vice president of medical affairs/medical director of MCR, formerly Manatee Rural Health, he meet parents all the time who oppose vaccinations for a variety of reasons, but he lets them know he is an advocate for the protection vaccines can give.
Data from 2015 in Manatee County shows only 15 percent of teenage girls have completed the HPV series along with only six percent of teenage boys. Additionally, 71 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys who were of proper age had not started the HPV series. Carrie Harter, Florida Department of Health, Manatee County
“When I first started practicing it was very common for me to see kids with chicken pox die, kids with measles die, kids with haemophilus influenzae type b suffer serious consequences or die,” Van Buren said last week. “But the vaccines available now make it such that those conditions are very, very rare. When you see them today they are usually in individuals who are un-vaccinated.”
While no life-threatening illness is better or worse than another, Van Buren is especially concerned about the damage a virus called human papilloma can do.
Besides being on Van Buren’s radar right now, human papilloma, commonly known as HPV, is also on the radar of Carrie Harter, director of disease control and prevention at the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County and Donna Keith, immunization program director at the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, both of whom endorse HPV vaccinations in pre-teens, which, they say, will prevent HPV-related cancers in adulthood.
Although the HPV vaccine can provide a lifetime of protection against HPV, Manatee County’s immunization rates are stunningly low.
“Data from 2015 in Manatee County shows only 15 percent of teenage girls have completed the HPV series of vaccines along with only 6 percent of teenage boys,” Harter said. “Additionally, 71 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys who were of proper age had not started the HPV series.”
Responding to the low immunization rates, Harter’s crew is forming an Immunization Coalition to better educate the community about the vaccine and its benefits.
“We will have a special focus on adolescent vaccines,” Harter added.
What is HPV?
HPV is a family of viruses that can cause a multitude of sexually transmitted infections.
If untreated, the infections can lead to cancer.
The cancer can be cervical in some woman, anal cancer in some men and women and some forms of genital cancer in men, Van Buren said.
“HPV is also probably the No. 1 or No. 2 causes of head and neck cancer in males,” Van Buren added.
Although it is not passed from one individual to another by kissing or other casual contact, any skin-to-skin sexual contact, even sexual contact without penetration, can pass the virus, Van Buren said.
There has been a lot of research into a cure, but none yet, Van Buren added.
“The best remedy right now is the vaccine,” Van Buren added.
“The HPV vaccine is safe,” Harter said. “It has proven to be exceptionally effective at preventing cancer and can be given by pediatricians as part of a regular immunization regimen.”
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccine, which was introduced in 2006, is made from tiny proteins that look like the outside of the real human papilloma virus, Harter said.
The vaccine does not contain any live virus, so it can’t cause cancer or other HPV-related illnesses, Harter added.
“When the vaccine is given, the body makes antibodies in response to the protein to clear it from the body,” Harter said. “If a person is then exposed to the real virus, the same antibodies can prevent it from entering the cells of the body and creating an infection.”
Side effects from the vaccination are pain, redness, swelling in the arm where the shot is given, dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache, Harter said.
Who is recommended to get the vaccine
The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County recommends the HPV vaccine for preteen boys and girls at 11 or 12 so that they are protected before even being exposed to the virus, Harter said.
However, the eligibility age span for the virus is officially between nine and 26, Van Buren said.
“HPV vaccine produces a more robust immune response during the preteen years,” Harter said.
Mantee County recommends that if the vaccine is not given during the pre-teen years, it can be administered to young women up to age 26 and young men up to age 21, Harter said.
When it was first released in 2006, the HPV vaccine was a three-dose series completed over the course of six months but that has now been modified, Harter added.
“This past October, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and Centers for Disease Control revised the recommendations to two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart for 11- to 12-year-olds,” Harter said. “Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26, will continue to need the three dose series.”
The revision was made after a thorough review of data from clinical trials showing two doses of HPV vaccine in younger adolescents produced an immune response similar or higher than the response in young adults who received three doses, Harter said.
Why some parents decline
Approximately 40 to 45 percent of eligible patients at MCR Health Services have completed the recommended vaccination series, said Dr. William Colgate of MCR Health Services.
Van Buren said that one of the reasons that some parents give him for declining is a fear that the vaccination will give their child the feeling they have a free pass to have sexual intercourse.
Safety shouldn’t be an issue at all, Harter said.
“There has been some concern among parents about the safety of the HPV virus,” Harter added. “But research from before and after the HPV vaccines were licensed show that the vaccines are safe.”
Who is it for: Males and females age 9 to 26 are eligible
Where can you get it: The HPV vaccine is offered at pediatrician offices in Manatee County as well as at MCR Health Services in Manatee and the Florida Department of Health offices in Manatee and Sarasota.
How much does it cost: Most insurance will cover the vaccine. DOH-Sarasota offers the vaccine free at its Sarasota and North Port locations through the federally-funded Vaccines for Children program. MCR Health Services also can offer the vaccine free through the Vaccines for Children program. DOH-Manatee provides the vaccine for a small fee
Information or appointments: MCR Health Services, 941-776-4000; DOH Manatee, 941-748-0747; DOH Sarasota, 941-861-2900