The human papillomavirus, or HPV, ranks among the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD) we know today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 79 million Americans are infected with HPV. Most are in their teens or early 20s. Around 14 million people are newly infected annually.
HPV can lead to other health concerns, including genital warts and cervical cancer. Nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, while 4,000 die from the disease. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only condition that can be caused by HPV. An estimated 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by HPV-caused cancers annually.
A Vaccine for HPV
The creation of a vaccine should be good news for everyone. This preventative treatment protects against certain types of HPV. The list includes types 16 and 18, which are responsible for 80% of cases involving cancer. It also works against types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases, as well as types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. The last five can lead to cancer in the throat, anus, cervix, vagina, or penis.
The HPV vaccine is administered in three separate shots. Patients between the ages of 15 and 45 receive an initial injection with a second two months later. The final dose is given four months after the second. The entire process takes six months. Patients ages 9 to 14 require two shots administered six months apart.
Controversy, Sexuality, and Vaccines
Despite promising results, the U.S. population has been slow to embrace the vaccine. That’s due in large part to the controversies that surround it. Politics, religion, and misinformation have worked against this medical breakthrough.
- Anti-Vaxxers Claim Safety Reasons to Not Vaccinate
The anti-vaxxer movement has grown in recent years. Despite scientific evidence countering their beliefs, a group of activists insists that vaccinations are harmful. That includes those that protect against widespread viruses like HPV.
The FDA approved two forms of the vaccine, including Gardasil and Cervarix. Each has a strong safety record. The most common side effect is pain and swelling at the injection site. No evidence exists that either vaccine increases rates of cognitive impairment, blood clots, or death.
These facts haven’t changed the minds of many in the anti-vaxxer movement. Articles and videos have been published, attempting to scare parents away from the HPV vaccine.
- Conservatives Counter Vaccine Mandates
Groups of conservatives have also gotten in the way of more people getting the HPV vaccine. They point to parental rights when mandates for the immunization are presented.
Conservatives claim that requiring an HPV vaccine takes away a parent’s right to discuss sex with their children on their own terms. They have taken a similar stance in the past in relation to mandating other vaccines, calling it an assault on family values.
For example, political advocates claim that if children are vaccinated against tetanus, then they are more likely to engage in risky behavior rather than avoiding cuts and scrapes that could cause lockjaw and infections. However, when a bill was introduced that would make the tetanus vaccine available free for children of low-income families with no legal requirement to administer it, Republican governors vetoed it anyway.
The same argument doesn’t hold water when used against the HPV vaccine. A recent study reviewed the activity of 1,400 girls and found no evidence that those who were vaccinated engaged in more sexual activity than those who were not.
- Unsubstantiated Claims Made by Politicians
False claims haven’t helped the image of the HPV vaccine. On September 12th, 2011, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann made inflammatory statements about the vaccination.
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given the vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” Bachmann repeated her claim on the Today show.
Dr. Paul Offit, who wrote Autism’s False Prophets, later explained that there was no way that the HPV vaccine could impact the nervous system.
“It doesn’t even make biological sense,” he expressed his frustration with the misinformation. “In a better world, you would like to think the HPV vaccine would never need to be mandated,” Offit said.
“If you seek out information – and I would argue I’m informed about vaccines, I mean my children are fully vaccinated – you will make the right decisions. The problem is people like Michele Bachmann. If you’re looking to inform yourself about vaccines, she will misinform you.”
Bachmann later appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show, where she stated that she has “no idea” if Gardasil causes mental retardation and that she was only reporting what her supporter told her.
Should I Get the HPV Vaccine?
The American Cancer Society recommends that children ages 11 or 12 should start receiving the HPV vaccine. Females between ages 13 and 26 and males between ages 13 and 21 who have not started the series or haven’t finished it should also receive the vaccine. Men up to age 26 who have sex with men and those with a weakened immune system should also be vaccinated.
More than 270 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been administered worldwide, including 100 million within the United States. It has proven to be a safe, effective way to protect against this common STD. Side effects are temporary and generally include fever, headache, and redness or swelling at the injection site. People who are allergic to yeast or any ingredient used in the vaccine could have a more serious reaction.
Parents who are unsure about having their children inoculated should talk to a medical professional. Politicians and activists may have opinions on the matter but are rarely coming to the discussion with facts and an unbiased agenda.
Your doctor is the best source of information when deciding whether or not you or your children should receive the HPV vaccine. Contact Complete Women’s Healthcare today to schedule a consultation and learn more about preventative care.