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The HPV Vaccine Debate


The HPV Vaccine Debate

The following information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

Should your daughter get the HPV vaccination?

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has licensed two vaccines to protect against certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer: Cervarix, for females 10-25 years old, and Gardasil, for females aged 11-26. (Gardasil is also recommended for males aged 9-26 to protect against some types of genital warts.)

At the same time, an increase in prescription drug ads that disclose the side effects of vaccines have left parents like Circle of Moms member Sarah K. confused about whether their daughters should be immunized: “Recently I have seen an alarming amount of commercials for the HPV vaccination ... Would you give it to your daughters? Is this any different than passing out condoms at school? Is it preventive? Is it giving your daughters permission to have sex?”

To help shed light on the conversation about the HPV vaccine, here's the low-down on three key issues moms are working through in our communities, including what the vaccine actually prevents and the potential risks. 

How Much Protection Does it Provide?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year about 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and almost 4,000 die from the disease. Most cases of cervical cancer and all cases of genital warts are caused by HPV — the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States

“Current statistics on HPV indicate that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire a genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have been infected with genital HPV infection. Those are HUGE percentages,” says a Circle of Moms member named Charlie P. 

Because the HPV vaccines protect against 70 percent of cervical cancers, Tracey W. feels that giving it to her daughter is a no-brainer: “If there is something that can protect your daughter from [cervical cancer], you should do it.” 

 

But not all moms agree with Tracy. Despite the value of protection against most cervical cancers, Rebekah S. and Shelly N. are opting not to submit their daughters to the vaccine’s three-shot series because they are not sure there is enough benefit. Even if their daughters are immunized, they contend, the vaccine does not prevent against all strains of the HPV virus: “If it would protect against all forms of cervical cancer and not just the one transmitted via sexual contact, then that would be a different story,” says Shelley.

The CDC notes that Cervarix protects females against HPV types 16 and 18, while Gardasil protects females against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.

Does It Encourage Early, Unprotected Sex?

Another reason some moms have misgivings about the HPV vaccination is because it prevents viruses that are only contracted through sex, leading them to wonder whether giving their daughters this kind of protection will communicate a false impression that they are protected from all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or that they are being given the green light to have sex. Shelly and Angie B. both fall into this camp, describing giving their daughters the vaccine as a message that it's "a shot for when you have sex."

In answer to these concerns, a mom named Michelle recommends considering whether your daughter is currently having or is likely to have sex and therefore at risk for contracting HPV. And Charlie P. points out that a person “can be responsible and practice safe sex, and the chances of getting it are still high,” even with condoms, which do not always prevent transmission of HPV.

Offering a case in point, a mom who goes by "JLR" shares that she is "living proof" that the virus can be transmitted even in a long-term monogamous relationship. She ended up infected with HPV even though both she and her husband had very few sexual partners before meeting one another. She goes on to explain that many people do not know they are carrying HPV because they may not test positive for it even years into a relationship: “They may only show mild symptoms that, because of negative testing for years, could be presumed to be something else by doctors … Don’t assume that because someone has HPV that they are sexually irresponsible. Condoms are not 100 percent [effective]; you will not necessarily have symptoms, and you will not necessarily test positive within a couple years after exposure.”

 

Are the Vaccines Safe?

Several Circle of Moms members question whether it's wise to give their daughters a vaccination that's relatively new. They worry that there’s not enough information about all of the side effects, including the possibility of prolonged reactions.

Deanna P. and Juli both recount adverse reactions to the vaccine. After receiving the first shot, Deanna's daughter had a “full-blown asthma attack,” which ended with a two-night stay in the hospital. “My daughter was a healthy 11-year-old with seasonal asthma … now she's dealing with health issues every day because of her reaction to Gardasil.” Juli, a mom who believes the vaccine is generally "a good thing," says each mom should “carefully weigh the odds” for her own child. Her 17-year-old daughter suffered an allergic reaction 28 hours after the shot and broke out in hives all over her body. 

According to CDC literature, both vaccines were studied in thousands of people around the world and there were no serious safety concerns. More than 46 million doses of HPV vaccine have been distributed in the United States as of June 2012. Side effects reported in studies were mild, and include pain where the shot was given, fever, dizziness, and nausea. The FDA has licensed the vaccines and the CDC has approved them as safe and effective. Both agencies continue to monitor the vaccines' safety.

The risks associated with the HPV vaccine are very small. The post-licensure study that was recently completed confirmed this,” relays a Circle of Moms member named Jenifer. “The risks are like [with] any other vaccine: [a] chance of having a fever or soreness. There is a very small increased chance of blood clots or fainting (~1 in 100,000 doses).”

Dorothy S. agrees that the risks are minimal compared with the benefits: “I have four girls and this HPV immunization was, of course, of great importance for me to find out more about. As with any new immunization, there are always risks. But when you look at the overall good that it does, I definitely would take that chance.”

The bottom line, Circle of Moms member Sandi T. emphasizes, is that parents should educate themselves on the specifics of the HPV vaccine and discuss the risks and benefits with their doctors. “Obviously this is a very controversial subject, as all vaccinations have been,” she notes. “My suggestion would be to research this very thoroughly; it is important though that you make sure you are getting your information from a reliable source, [as] not every website on the Internet has correct information … You need to weigh all the facts.”

The preceding information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

Image Source: Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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