She may only be 11 years old, but already Nermen Konda and her mother Amna Mohamed are thinking about cancer; specifically about preventing it.
"Our kids, they are the future, and we need the future to be full of healthy people," said Mohamed.
That's why when Mohamed learned about the Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, vaccine, she knew it was a must-do for Nermen.
"At first it started to hurt, but then I was thinking - well it will be a good cause for me even though it hurts so bad, it's still going to do something good for me, so I am going to get something good in the end," said Nermen.
The Samuel Rogers Health Center in northeast Kansas City hopes to vaccinate more pre-teens, teens and young adults like Nermen thanks to a $90,000 grant it received from the American Cancer Society. The goal is to vaccinate more people in Kansas City. The grant helps the clinic do this by offsetting vaccine costs for low-income families or families without insurance.
"[This] has never happened before where you have a vaccine that prevents cancer," said Dr. Jose Cruz, Nermen's pediatrician at Samuel Rogers Health Center.
HPV is the third most common cause of gynecological cancer; it's responsible for killing 4,000 people each year.
"Our hope in the future is that if we vaccinate the girls and the boys we will have a herd immunity they call and then the vaccine will be effective and we will see the benefits in the long run," said Cruz.
The benefits would be akin to what vaccination did for polio and smallpox by eradicating HPV altogether.
HPV manifests itself as cervical cancer in girls, and head, neck and rectal cancer in boys. Right now, 60 percent of girls and women have received the HPV vaccine, and 40 percent of boys and men have. In order for herd immunity to happen, those numbers would need to be closer 100 percent.
The HPV vaccination is a series of shots given over several months and is recommended for adolescent boys and girls before they are ever exposed to the virus. The vaccine prevents infection with the most common cancer-causing HPV types.
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