Despite mounting evidence that the HPV vaccine does not, in fact, turn teens into whore monsters, more parents are crossing their arms, frowning suspiciously, and insisting to their friendly, neighborhood GP that they will not be vaccinating their daughters against HPV, thankyouverymuch.
A study from the Mayo Clinic (published in the journal Pediatrics) revealed that more than two in five parents believe the current HPV is either unnecessary, or causes harmful side effects (more on what sorts of side effects later). Just five years ago, about 40 percent of parents surveyed said they wouldn't vaccinate their daughters against HPV. That number has been on the rise ever since, jumping up to 41 percent in 2009, then to 44 percent in 2010.
This, according to Mayo Clinic senior researcher Robert Jacobson, M.D., is a troubling trend. While it probably made sense for parents to approach the HPV vaccine with caution back in 2008, the intervening years have only seen more evidence that the vaccine is both safe and effective at preventing HPV infections that lead to certain kinds of cancers. According to the parents surveyed, more clinicians are recommending the vaccine (though they still only recommend it about half the time). Dr. Jacobson explained that, given what doctors know about the largely symptom-less spread of HPV and the collateral damage the virus can cause, it's important that parents strongly consider vaccinating their daughters at a fairly early age:
HPV causes essentially 100 percent of cervical cancer and 50 percent of all Americans get infected at least once with HPV. It's a silent infection. You cannot tell when you've been exposed or when you have it. While most HPV infections clear, a percentage linger and start the process of cancerous changes. The HPV vaccine is an anti-cancer vaccine.
Researchers analyzed vaccination data for teens ages 13-17 in the 2008-10 National Immunization Survey of Teens, focusing on three vaccines in all: a vaccine to prevent sexually-transmitted HPV, Tdap, for tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis; and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, or MCV4 vaccine. As of 2010, eight out of 10 teens in the 13-17 age range had the Tdap vaccine, and about 67 percent had the MCV4 vaccine. Although the overall rate for actual HPV vaccination did rise (it was only 16 percent in 2008), only about a third of girls in the 13-17 range were immunized against HPV.
Now for that litany well-founded parental concerns. Parents who said they were loathe to give their daughters the HPV vaccine cited any number of the following reasons: their family physician didn't recommend the vaccine; they didn't deem it necessary; they didn't know enough about it; they worried about the vaccine's safety; and, finally, they thought it was inappropriate to give their young daughter a vaccine to protect against a sexually transmitted disease.
Yes, kids are going to grow up into sexually active creatures. It sort of keeps humanity going, if you can believe it. It's one thing to mistrust the efficacy or safety of a relatively new medical procedure, but claiming ignorance or fretting that a vaccine will somehow turn a child into some sort of precocious libertine is not a good reason for parents to simply avoid the HPV vaccine. The information exists, according to Dr. Jacobson, and it points to the vaccine's relative safety and effectiveness...if it's administered at an early age.
"The vaccine works better the younger the child is," explained Dr. Jacobson, "and it doesn't work after the child is grown up and is exposed to the virus."
More Parents Say They Won't Vaccinate Daughters Against HPV [ScienceDaily]
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