HPV Vaccine Concerns

Many people share HPV vaccine concerns, but the studies show it's safe and effective to prevent cancer in both men and women.

The large majority of the parents who bring their children to my office want their children to be vaccinated against any disease we can protect them against. The HPV vaccine is one exception. While most of my patients are given the Gardasil at their 11 or 12 year check up, some parents still “want to do their research” or “have heard things” so they decline to protect their kids at those visits. Sadly they often return year after year and say that they still haven’t done their research, so their child remains unprotected. Sometimes they’ll say that they will let their child decide at 18 years of age. Sadly, by that age many will have already been infected.

I recently had a parent share HPV Vaccine: Panacea or Pandora’s Box? The Costs and Deceptiveness of the New Technology with me. She had concerns based on the information in this article. The first thing I noted was that it is from 2011. This is outdated, since we have learned so much in the six years since it was published, yet like many anti-vax articles, it continues to circulate online.

 The first argument is that it won’t last long enough.

It is therefore possible that the protective effects of the vaccination will wane at the time when women are most susceptible to the oncogenic effects of the virus (those over 30), providing protection to those who do not need it (adolescents) and failing to provide protection to those who do (women over 30).

Studies show protection lasts 10 years and hasn’t dropped by that time. If future studies show a booster is needed, we can add that. That in no way should mean to not give protection for the years it is really needed – adolescence and young adult life. I cannot agree with the statement that providing protection “to those who do not need it (adolescents)” at all. Yes teens need protection. I’ll get more into their risks below. And the fact that women over 30 are more likely to develop the cancer does not mean that is when they come into contact with the virus. It’s kind of like saying that kids don’t need to brush their teeth because they don’t have cavities. If you wait for the cavities to develop, it’s too late!

The second argument is based on old version of the vaccine.

We now use the 9 valent variety, which covers the large majority of cancer causing strains. Again, even if there are other strains, why not protect against what we have?

Natural immunity lasting longer than vaccine immunity?

The argument that natural immunity will last longer than the vaccine immunity is not a valid argument. Natural immunity can wane with some diseases too, and if we can protect against the disease, it is preferable. Boosters for many vaccines are needed when we know immunity wanes. That’s okay. Some parents advocate to not vaccinate and get the real disease. When their kids get whooping cough they’re miserable. Many are hospitalized. Some even die. I’d rather do boosters! (This may be a bad example because I don’t think our booster for whooping cough lasts long enough and there are complications with giving boosters more often, but ongoing surveillance and research will continue and hopefully improve the situation.)

The cost issue is interesting.

If it was not cost effective in the long run, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for it. It’s that simple. They’ve done the math. Australia is a great example. Their cancer rates are down because HPV is a mandatory vaccine.

Debunking Risks

The risks listed have all been shown to not be as risky as once shown.

Abstinence as prevention?

The article also alludes to this being a sexually transmitted disease so we can just teach abstinence until marriage.

There are so many things wrong with this.

First, this virus can spread through non-intercourse activities, which can be part of a normal and healthy teen relationship.

Second, even if your child is a virgin at marriage, their spouse might not be. Or the spouse could die and they remarry.

Or there could be infidelity in marriage.

There may not be signs of this virus during an infection. Testing for HPV is recommended for women over 30 years of age, but is not available for men at any age, so teens and young adults will not know if they have the virus or not.

And we know that abstinence only teaching fails. Some people raised in strict Christian households have sex outside of marriage.

Teaching kids to protect themselves is much more effective to prevent many sexually transmitted infections, but condoms don’t always protect against HPV transmission.

And there’s always rape. One out of four women has been sexually assaulted. One in four! What a horrible thing to be raped. Then to find out you get cancer from that…

What about males?

They argue it hasn’t been tested in males.

It has.

And it cuts cancer rates in men too. They’re not just vectors as stated in the article.

We keep learning

This article is several years old.

It didn’t yet know that the cancer rates in Australia would fall like we now know.

We’ve learned much more information than they knew in 2011 when it was written.

We know the HPV vaccine is safe.

It is best given before the teen years to induce the best immune response and to get kids protected before the risk of catching the virus becomes more likely.

It isn’t a lifestyle choice to get this virus, as it seems the author claims. People have sex. This virus and other infections can spread through sex. But this virus is also spread without intercourse (such as through oral sex or skin to skin contact without sex), which is why 80% of the adult population has had the virus at some point.

If you don’t think the risk is real

Someone You Love is a documentary that follows several women with HPV related cancer. If you still think the vaccine isn’t worth it for your child, watch it. I am not paid in any way to recommend this. It simply is a powerful documentary that shows the devastation of HPV disease and you should see that before saying your child doesn’t need protection.

Do I recommend the vaccine?

I strongly feel this is a safe and effective vaccine. So much so that my own teens received three doses of the original Gardasil and one dose of Gardasil 9 despite no official recommendations for this booster. I want to protect them in any way that I can.

If I had any concerns about its safety I would not have given it to my own children.

I don’t think I can list any study or give any argument stronger than that.

Many people raise concerns about the HPV vaccine, but the studies show it's safe and effective to prevent cancer in both men and women.

Author: DrStuppy

I am a pediatrician and mother of two teens. I have a passion for sharing health related information.

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