Putting a cancer-preventing vaccine on the back-to-school list

DREXEL HILL, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Back-to-school physicals often include catching up on vaccinations.

This year, the American Cancer Society urges parents to put one on their list that prevents 6 types of cancer.

For the Townsends, family is a joint effort, from meal-time cleanup, to their health ---

"We talk about it a lot as a family, in terms of our health being something that we're fortunate and blessed with and that we have to be good stewards of it," says Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend.

When the pediatrician recommended the HPV vaccine for older daughter Taylor, the family decided to learn all about it.

"It helps prevent 6 types of cancers," says Alesia Mitchell-Bailey, a health systems manager for the American Cancer Society.

According to the CDC, the vaccine can prevent 92% of cancers linked to HPV, the human papillomavirus.

That includes 80 per cent of cervical cancer, as well as some cancers of the throat, tongue and tonsils.

"Cancer has had a huge impact in our families' lives," says Chekemma, recalling that both she and husband Terrence lost grandparents the year they were married.

So protecting their daughters is vital to the couple.

Although HPV-related cancers develop in adulthood, the vaccine works best when kids get 2 doses between 11 and 13 years of age.

If you wait till later, you may need 3 doses.

Mitchell-Bailey says records from around the world show it's making a difference.

"We have seen a decline in HPV-related cervical cancers," she notes.

In Australia, where 80% of teens have been vaccinated, cervical cancer could soon be eliminated.

U-S vaccination rates are under 50%, however, the ACS is trying to raise that to 80% by 2026.

Mitchell-Bailey plans to have her 2 sons vaccinated when the time comes, and Chekemma says the same for daughter Tori.

"Nobody's excited about a needle, but everybody's excited about the potential to be cancer-free," says Chekemma.

She says parents with concerns should write them down, and get answers from proven, credible sources.

For the CDC's HPV vaccine information, CLICK HERE.

For information from the American Cancer Society's Mission HPV Cancer-Free, CLICK HERE.

Get up to speed on HPV and the vaccine at the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website: CLICK HERE.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.