A few years after I graduated from college the FDA approved Gardasil, a vaccine to protect young girls and women against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancers. Gardasil was the first vaccine targeted specifically to prevent cancer, and was (and still is) an important advancement in women’s health. Since that time a lot has changed. In 2006 the vaccine was only approved for use in 9-to 26 year-old girls and women. Today, we have another vaccine used to prevent HPV in women (Cervarix), and changes regarding who should be vaccinated. These vaccines, given as a series of three shots over 6 months, are recommended for BOTH preteen girls (both Cervarix and Gardasil) and boys (Gardasil only) at age 11 or 12-years. In addition, the vaccines are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not receive the vaccine when they were younger up to age 26 in women and up to age 21 in men.
What hasn’t changed? Parent’s concerns that vaccinating against this potentially deadly virus may cause a rise in sexual activity among vaccinated adolescents. It’s really never made sense to me. HPV is only one of many potential consequences that can come along with having sex. Vaccination helps to protect against more than 20,000 HPV-associated cancers that occur each year in women and the approximately 12,000 HPV-associated cancers that occur each year in men. So why would parents be concerned that vaccination would give their children a false sense of security that they are protected from unplanned pregnancies or a long list of sexually transmitted diseases?
Well, it’s time to put those concerns to rest. A new study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center shows that “teen girls’ and young women’s beliefs regarding the HPV vaccine, whether accurate or inaccurate, are not linked to subsequent sexual behaviors over the six months after vaccination.” Data demonstrated that vaccination did NOT lead to riskier sexual behaviors. Hopefully this accurate, evidence –based information will help parents understand that vaccinating their preteens is the right choice. Parents have the ability to protect their children early and potentially save them from a battle with cancer in the future. Make sure your sons and daughters are protected against HPV.