You’re Wrong About The HPV Vaccine (and There’s Data to Prove It)

The American Cancer Society is sounding the alarm when it comes to the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9). Covid-19 has resulted in a 71 percent drop in healthcare visits for 7 to 17-year-olds over the last 6 months, depriving tweens and teens of the appointments that generally result in HPV vaccination. But numbers were down even before the pandemic, with news outlets reporting a 70 percent decrease in HPV vaccination rates year over year in April.

It’s possible the pandemic has simply given parents who were already hesitant an excuse to not get their kids vaccinated just yet. But experts believe many of the fears behind their hesitation are likely based on myths that are easily refuted—if only parents are willing to look at what the research says.

Myth: The HPV Vaccine Encourages Sexual Activity

Dr. Hina Talib is a board-certified pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. She recently told Forbes that the top myth she has encountered about the HPV vaccination is the fear that kids will see the vaccination as permission to engage in sexual activity. 

Parents don’t consent to the vaccine, because they don’t want their kids to think they are encouraging them to have sex.

Truth: That’s Not Happening

Studies among teens actually show that teens who get the HPV vaccine do not have sex any earlier than teens who get other vaccines,” Talib explained,  “So the evidence does not support the myth that an HPV vaccine is a license to have sex.”

Further research has found that kids who have strong bonds with their parents are more likely to delay sexual activity. Which means parents who talk openly to their kids about subjects such as sex and the HPV vaccine may have far more success in helping their children to wait than those who try to ignore those subjects entirely.

Myth: It’s Fine to Wait Until a Child is Sexually Active

Even among parents who are open to vaccinating their kids against HPV, there is often a hesitance to do so “too early.” Current recommendations suggest a routine vaccination age of 11 or 12 for the HPV vaccine, with the vaccine being approved for use as young as 9. But some parents may choose to wait, thinking it isn’t necessary until their child is sexually active.

Truth: The Recommendations Exist for a Reason

“We know that the vaccine works better the earlier it is given, and before the onset of sexual activity,” Talib explained.

That timing can be tricky, though, with some research suggesting that half of all mothers believe their children to be virgins when they aren’t. And if you think your child isn’t sexually active when they are, it may already be too late to protect them.  

“Almost 80% of pre-teens get HPV infection within 2 to 3 years of their first sexual activity,” Talib said.

This is information straight from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), shared alongside the fact that 64 percent of teen or pre-teen girls may be infected with HPV and 75 percent of new cases are found in people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Vaccinating your kids before they are sexually active is the best way to keep them safe.

Myth: Condoms Provide the Same Protection

“Some teens have asked me if they use a condom, won’t that protect them from HPV infection and allow them to ‘skip’ this particular vaccine,” Talib said. “This is an important question, and, in my experience, sexually active teens are interested in learning about how to protect themselves from STIs.”

With HPV being the most common STI they may come in contact with, it makes sense they would want to know how to best protect themselves.   

Truth: Condoms Are Great, But Not For This

“HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and even oral sex,” Talib explained. “So even if a condom or barrier method is used for every sexual act, areas of skin not covered that touch may still transmit the infection.”

This is especially worrisome because people can spread HPV even when they have no signs or symptoms themselves, and a person can have HPV for years before developing symptoms—which means that even if a person uses a condom every single time they engage in sexual activity, they could be contracting or spreading HPV.

Myth: The Vaccine Is Still Too New

The refusal rate for the HPV vaccination is as high as 27 percent in some areas. Compared to the average refusal rate of 2 to 3 percent for most other childhood vaccinations, this is exceptionally high. That means a large number of parents are refusing the HPV vaccination, even when they consent to other vaccines. Which is concerning when you remember the HPV vaccine is one of only two vaccines that prevents cancer.

But some parents claim the HPV vaccine is still too new and untested to proceed with.

Truth: It’s Been Available For 14 Years—And Was Rigorously Tested Before That

Prior to being released, the HPV vaccine was tested on more than 20,000 girls and 4,000 boys in 18 different countries. Those trials found the vaccine to be almost 100 percent effective at preventing cervical cell abnormalities in girls, and 90 percent effective against 4 HPV types, to include those linked to genital warts and penile lesions.

Since being introduced in 2006 (14 years ago), testing and monitoring has continued and over 120 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed. In 2016, it was reported that HPV rates in teen girls were down 64 percent since the introduction of the HPV vaccination, and research has shown an estimated 92 percent of cancers caused by HPV could be prevented by the vaccine.  

This is not a new vaccine with limited data, but rather a well-established vaccine that has been found time and time again to be incredibly effective and safe.  

Real Talk

The AAP has a statement on HPV vaccine concerns, reminding parents that all vaccines are continually monitored for safety, even after release. They also encourage parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician if they have any questions at all—they are there to help.

When looking for information online, remember to consult only legitimate sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and AAP. And look to what pediatricians are doing with their own kids.

“A vaccine that is safe and works to prevent cancer in youth is a science marvel,” Talib said. “Physician parents, like myself, are 100 percent in support of this vaccine for our kids as well.”

So what are you waiting for? Call your child’s pediatrician and make that appointment today.

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