HPV: The Other Vaccine

Source: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/Has anything been left unsaid in the uproar over vaccination since the measles outbreak? My little sleepy corner of the world, Marin County, has even been skewered by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show for its high rate of personal-belief exemptions. Not since the peacock feathers and hottubs of the 70s have we been so subject to ridicule.

Yet one aspect of the vaccination debate deserves more attention. A local newspaper story provides a clue, quoting a parent who said, almost as an afterthought, “There are vaccines I didn’t do. I skipped the one related to sexually transmitted disease.”

She means the HPV vaccine, which protects against the human papilloma virus. HPV is the most common of all sexually transmitted infections. Although usually harmless, it can be far deadlier than the measles—HPV causes cervical and other cancers. In the United States, 12,000 are diagnosed with and 4,000 die from cervical cancer each year. Even those less drastically affected may suffer invasive testing, treatments, and anxiety. There is no way of knowing who will be afflicted or who will spread it to others.

But since 2006, it’s been possible to stay safe from the most serious strains of HPV. All it takes is three shots administered over six months to girls and boys around age 11, before they become sexually active.

You’d think parents would jump for joy at such an easy way to protect their children from getting or giving cancer. Yet even though the vaccines are highly safe and effective, a recent KQED report notes that based on 2011 data, the most current available, “Just 33 percent of girls and less than 7 percent of boys in the U.S. have gotten all three recommended doses.”  When it comes to HPV, there’s no ground zero like Marin County to mock for low immunization rates; they’re abysmal across the whole country.

Many parents fear that vaccinating against HPV condones early sexual behavior, despite evidence to the contrary. Even some doctors are reluctant to bring up the topic because of the link to sex. But such fears fly in the face of reality.

We can keep our heads in the sand and hope that nothing bad happens. Or we can keep our kids safe from cancer and other ills with the HPV vaccine.


How will/did you choose? What do you think of the vaccination debate? 

For more on HPV and the HPV vaccine:

Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html 

KQED Forum: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201408040900

Dr. Jen Gunter, Ob-gyn who writes about women’s health: https://drjengunter.wordpress.com/tag/hpv-vaccine/

6 thoughts on “HPV: The Other Vaccine

  1. I do not think that the HPV vaccine leads to promiscuity. Nor do I think giving condoms out does either. But I have some reservations about some vaccines. The HPV vaccine sounds great, but I worry that it might be one of those treatments that 20 or 30 or even 40 years down the road we learn had unforseen consequences. I am fully behind the science of vaccines, but have concerns that we don’t know all that we don’t know. There have been all sorts of medical treatments, in the name of science, that have been debunked decades later. Vaccines, as a whoke probably won’t be, but will any specific shots turn out to cause more harm than good? Who knows? I sure hope I don’t get flamed for my comments.

    • Thanks for writing, Heidi. Yours is a thoughtful comment, and if anyone flames you, I wouldn’t publish it! It is too bad things get so polarized–certainly no way to win hearts and minds. At any rate, as to HPV, a friend of mine who contracted the virus goes through very painful procedures frequently. She doesn’t have cancer, but has to have her cervix scraped a lot. She was among the first of all my friends to warn, “Be sure to get your kids vaccinated!” I was happy to do so.

  2. Mine will all get vaccinated. It absolutely does not lead to promiscuity, how foolish some would think that. Great reminder Lorrie.

    • Thanks, Teri. And your kids will thank you too! Just this morning, NPR reported that the CDC just announced a big study absolutely disproving the notion that HPV vaccines lead to an increase in teenage promiscuity. It’s the same outlandish fear behind sex education and why dangerous abstinence-only curricula are still around. It’s the same old story every time when it comes to sex.

  3. My boy will be getting his HPV shots very soon. My mother was a public health nurse. As a child, I had measles, mumps, and chicken pox before there were vaccines. But we got the smallpox and polio vaccines. I would never wish measles or chicken pox on any kid, even if it never goes past the point of an itchy rash. I still have the scars. I went through the vaccine angst when my son was young. I chose to spread the shots out over a little more time, so he wasn’t getting more than a couple shots in one visit. My mother would haunt me if I hadn’t gotten him vaccinated at all.

    One friend says, “I”m from a 3rd world country. I see what those diseases do. My kids are fully vaccinated.”

    And another friend: “If I had know that our chicken pox party would leave my daughter’s eyes and tongue swollen, put her in the hospital, and leave her permanently scarred, I never would have done it. I’m now completely pro vaccination.”

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