Eastern Idaho Public Health will provide free HPV vaccines to teenagers and adults at clinics throughout next week.
The vaccines are part of a coordinated push by clinics throughout the state to prevent cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. HPV is one of two cancer sources that can be effectively prevented with vaccines, which is why it has become the center of this effort. In 2014, more than 90 percent of cervix cancer cases in Idaho and 70 percent of throat cancer cases were associated with HPV.
Beyond the risk for cancer, the virus is also one of the most common pathogens in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that 80 percent of adults will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lives and 14 million new people become infected every year. The vast majority of infected adults will not develop cancer from the infection but could unknowingly spread the disease to their partners and place them at risk for developing cancer.
“You can have no symptoms for years after being exposed to it, so you can’t always tell if somebody has it or if it’s being passed along,” EIPH immunization coordinator Tiffany Larsen said.
Larsen has helped organize the weeklong event at the clinics for several years. Between Monday and Feb. 15, nine of the agency’s locations have set aside a day to offer the free vaccine to patients between the ages of 11 and 26. The clinics in Rexburg and Rigby will kick off the weekly push on Monday and the Idaho Falls location is participating on Valentine’s Day.
Eastern Idaho Public Health officials recommend that parents and patients make appointments ahead of time to receive the vaccines, although they will also accept walk-in visitors if they can. The vaccine is most effective in teenagers and children before they’ve had an initial exposure to the virus. Larsen vaccinated her two sons against the virus when they were 9, the earliest possible age when they could receive the vaccination.
“It’s a cancer prevention and I want to make sure I can do everything I can to protect my own children’s health,” she said.
Patients interested in the HPV vaccine can call their local branch of Eastern Idaho Public Health to find the free day for their clinic and schedule an appointment.