The New Jersey Health Department is stepping up efforts to encourage Garden State kids to get the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine

“It’s basically a virus that can infect both males and females and potentially cause some consequences like cancer,” said New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in America, causing a variety of cancers, genital warts and benign tumors in close to 80 million people, mostly those in their late teens and early 20s.

Tan said the number of New Jersey youngsters getting the HPV vaccine is comparable to the rest of the nation, estimated to be 40 to 45 percent, but it could and should be better.

Health Department data shows between 2012 and 2016 there were about 1,900 HPV cancer cases in the Garden State.

A CDC survey found many parents of girls simply did not know about the HPV vaccine, and parents of boys said their doctor had not recommended it.

Some parents may also feel giving the HPV vaccine might encourage their children to engage in sexual activity since it protects against an STIs, but Tan stressed “we look at the vaccine as a cancer prevention vaccine, because over 90 percent of HPV associated cancers are preventable through this vaccine.”

Tan said the Health Department is recommending the vaccine for boys and girls ages 11 to 12 because “scientific studies have shown that there’s a greater impact if you give that vaccine at such an early age before the onset of sexual activity.”

“The antibody responses are greater in those younger kids than if you were to get the vaccine at an older age," Tan said.

She said the Jersey Health Department is partnering with the American Cancer Society and the Association for Pediatric Providers to get the word out about the importance of getting the HPV vaccine, and efforts are also being made using social media to spread the word to pre-teens themselves.

“We do things like contests to encourage the kids to come up with ways that they can reach their friends and other kids their age," Tan said.

She said parents should understand the importance of getting this vaccine for their sons or daughters.

“We know that there are many cancers every single year that are associated with HPV that could be prevented with this particular vaccine," Tan said. "Over 29,000 cancer cases a year could be prevented by administering the vaccine."

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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