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Voices: Travel Shots

Aug 8, 2013

Travel Shots | B.J. Rimel, MD

My daughter loves to travel. She loves getting on an international flight and watching the flight staff go through their checklist. She is always the only one listening with rapt attention as the flight attendants describe the safety features of the jet and she will frequently pull out the safety card from the seat back pocket to review the exits and point out which one we should use. She loves getting off the plane in some new locale and trying the local food, especially the sweets. But she hates shots.

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Our last trip was to Vietnam and required several vaccinations since we were going to a rural area. The physician at the travel clinic we went to described them to her as “necessary if you are going to eat, play or touch anything.” Of course, my daughter then insisted that she would not be touching anything, would not eat anything and would not be playing with anything except her iPad. I reminded her that she might make a different choice about this when surrounded by a new and exciting place and the sights and smells of new foods. She remained firm in her conviction that she would not leave the hotel in Hanoi and would not want to accompany the rest of us out into the countryside. Despite her vehement protests, she got the necessary vaccinations.

After this experience, I’m inclined to think of HPV vaccination similarly to “travel shots.” We offer them as protection against infection by a virus that can cause cancer. HPV is endemic in our population. The Center for Disease Control notes that over 79 million Americans are infected. While some may argue that behavioral choices alter the likelihood of HPV infection, in the course of travel through adolescence to adulthood, a person is very likely to be exposed to this infection. HPV vaccination is MOST effective when given prior to sexual activity, which includes both genital to genital contact as well as hand to genital contact.

As a parent, I know that vaccination will help protect my children against HPV infection and thus HPV related cancers. As a gynecologic oncologist, I know the damage that cervical cancer can do. I also know that when confronted with new and exciting experiences, my kid will change her tune. She did not stay in the hotel as she predicted. By the third day in Vietnam, my daughter had eaten six different kinds of street food, fallen head first into the dirtiest cow pond I’ve ever seen, and played with twelve other kindergartners from a rural town. I imagine the rest of her travels through life will be similar. She’s only five years old now, but she will be getting vaccinated against HPV when she is old enough.