Easing Parents’ Fears about the HPV Vaccine

Thursday, August 9th, 2007
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

When the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck & Co.’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, Gardasil, to prevent cervical cancer in females as young as 9 years old, many parents viewed it as an opportunity to reduce their child’s risk for this disease. However, with everything controversial, there are two sides, and for some parents, Gardasil was cause for concern. Many are still not sure what exactly the vaccine or the disease itself is all about.

So what can doctors do to calm these fears? HIN tackles the most common fears parents have about Gardasil and helps physicians who are trying to do the same in their own practices.

FEAR: The HPV vaccine will encourage young girls to engage in sexual activity since it would make them immune to certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are caused by HPV.

FACT: According to Amanda F. Dempsey, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan, the vaccine will not encourage sexual activity. Scientific evidence does not support the idea that a vaccine for an STD can influence a person’s behavior. Dempsey likens it to seatbelts — are you more apt to drive recklessly now that you are securely fastened to your vehicle?

FEAR: The vaccine may not be effective against all types of HPV.

FACT: The vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective in protecting against four strands of HPV. While there are currently more than 100 strands of HPV, the vaccine protects against types 6 and 11, which are responsible for more than 95 percent of genital warts cases, and types 16 and 18, which are responsible for more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. In addition, over the next few decades, the occurrence of HPV could be reduced by more than 70 percent due to this vaccine.

FEAR: The vaccine is unnecessary because condoms are meant to protect against STDs.

FACT: The vaccine can prevent a very common infection that is not completely controlled by condoms. HPV is mainly contracted from skin to skin contact, unlike most other STDs, making condoms not 100 percent effective prevention methods.

Demsey says that parents’ opposition to the vaccine could become a major barrier to the use of this preventive treatment, if their concerns and questions about the HPV vaccines are not adequately addressed. Currently, only 44 percent of U.S. parents polled by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health support a school HPV mandate.

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