By Craig Sinclair
You may have chosen to have your daughter or son vaccinated against meningococcal, polio, hepatitis B, measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases when they were younger.
I still remember the commotion at our local community health centre when our kids were getting vaccinated. Not even a bag full of lollies could distract them from the “giant” needle or prevent the screaming that ensued!
You might think by the time your kids reach their teens, they’d be done with vaccines unless they’re travelling overseas.
Think again! The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against the strains of HPV which cause 70% of cervical cancers in women, 90% of all HPV-related cancers in men and 90% of genital warts.
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection which usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but if left undetected, can have serious health consequences, which is why it’s so important to ensure your teenager gets the three-dose vaccine before they become sexually active.
When your child is 12–13 years old, they can have the HPV vaccine for free at school, but until the end of 2014, boys aged 14–15 years can also have the vaccine for free as part of a catch-up program. Gardasil is the name of the HPV vaccine used in the school-based National HPV Vaccination Program.
It’s really important that they have all three doses of the vaccine over a six-month period so they get the highest level of protection. So if your son is aged 14-15, he needs to have the first dose now so he can finish the course for free before the catch-up program finishes at the end of this year. After 2014, missed doses will need to be purchased from a health service provider at a cost of approximately $150 each.
If your son has missed a dose at school, contact your local council for details of community catch-up sessions in 2014. GPs can also administer the vaccine to boys aged 14-15 in 2014. The vaccine is free but the GP may charge a consultation fee.
This year marks five years since the vaccine was introduced in Australia as part of the National Immunisation Program.
The HPV vaccine is safe, effective and has no serious side effects and has been hailed as a breakthrough in preventative health.
If you are unsure if your teenager is fully immunised or want to find out about the details of the National HPV Vaccination Program for your state, contact the National HPV Vaccination Program Register on 1800 478 734 or visit hpv.health.gov.au.
The secondary school year the vaccine is given in varies between States and Territories – refer to our table to see how it’s being rolled out in your area.
Find out more information about the vaccine at hpvvaccine.org.au or call the Cancer Council Victoria Helpline 13 11 20.
Craig Sinclair is the Director of the Prevention Division at Cancer Council Victoria and Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Public Health Committee.
Cancer Council Victoria plays a leading role in reducing the impact of all cancers on all people through our innovative work in cancer research, prevention and support.