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Why are more parents shunning HPV but not other vaccines?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
More parents concerned about HPV vaccine for their daughter, finds study.

A study from Mayo Clinic finds parents are concerned about their daughters’ receiving vaccine for HPV infection or human papillomavirus, despite recommendations from physicians. Study findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, found more than 2 in 5 parents think the vaccine is not needed. But they also worry about side effects, despite ongoing studies that it is safe.

The vaccine prevents genital and cervical cancers by preventing infection with HPV. Human papillomavirus infection causes genital warts and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) anyone who has ever had sex is at risk for contracting the virus that is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Less common but serious cancers from HPV include cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus, and cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.

In surveys, researchers found more and more parents say they would not have their daughters vaccinated. In 2009, 40 percent said no. That figure rose to 44 percent by 2010.

Other vaccine rates rose in comparison, including Tdap, for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis; and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, or MCV4 vaccine.

Senior researcher Robert Jacobson, M.D., a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center says HPV vaccination rates are moving in the opposite direction that rates should be going, in a press release.

In 2008 just 5 percent of parents said they were worried about the vaccine’s safety, compared to 19 percent in 2010, yet Jacobsen says during the same time studies continued to show HPV vaccine is safe.

The National Cancer Institute notes that HPV infection that includes more than 150 different but related viruses could be reduced by two-thirds with the vaccine. Of the 150 strains, 40 can be passed through sexual contact.

There are approximately 6 million cases of genital HPV cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

In contrast, just one percent of parents voiced safety concerns over Tdap and MCV4 vaccines, the study found.

Jacobson says at least 50 percent of Americans get infected at least once with HPV that causes 100 percent of cervical cancers. The infection is silent and many people never develop symptoms of health problems.

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The Mayo Clinic normally starts the series of vaccines at age 9 because it’s shown to be most effective when started at a younger age.

Jacobson, who has served as principal investigator for two multicenter vaccine studies funded by Pfizer, and another funded by Novartis, both at the Mayo Clinic, says the message to parents is to get the vaccine and start the series early. Once someone is exposed to HPV infection and older the vaccine is ineffective.

The researcher is also on a safety review committee for one vaccine study and a data and safety monitoring board for two other vaccine studies, all funded by Merck.

The Gardasil HPV vaccine is manufactured by Merck & Co., Inc. and protects against because it four HPV types: 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil is given through a series of three injections into muscle tissue over a 6-month period.

He says facts show the vaccine is “necessary”. Though more clinicians are recommending HPV vaccination, only about half are advising that parents start the series.

The CDC listed side effect of the anti-cancer vaccine include: pain at the injection site in about 9 people in 10 and redness and swelling in about 1 person in 2. Other 'mild' reactions include:

  • Fever of 99.5 or higher degrees Fahrenheit (about 1 person in 8)
  • Headache or fatigue (about 1 person in 2)
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain (about 1 person in 4)
  • Muscle or joint pain (up to 1 person in 2)
  • Fainting
  • Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) that can happen during any medical procedure or with vaccination.

If you search the internet, it's easy to see many consumers are indeed opposed to the vaccine, citing pharmaceutical company greed, ineffectiveness of vaccines like the flu, which seems to have raise cynicism and simply making healthy lifestyle choices to keep immunity intact and even celibacy.

One website states HPV is not the cause of cervical cancer in a 'shocking' report. They also state the vaccine can promote the disease - which was shown to be be true for those already infected with the same strains contained n the vaccine, but perhaps sensationalized in the report, which is referred to as a 'hoax'.

Parents don’t seem to think HPV infection is a risk for young children, though evidence shows the infection can lead to cancer in a percentage of cases. They also do not seem convinced the drug is safe, based on the survey findings.

If you still feel the vaccine is not safe or not necessary, it's important to remember to engage in regular screening that can detect problems early that could lead to cervical or other types of genital cancer. Discuss your concerns openly with your health care provider.

Perhaps parents have a problem speaking with a 9 year old about why it is necessary to get a series of 3 shots over a six month period to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. It is also possible that negativity about vaccines in general is spreading, though the study showed parents are willing to have their children receive other vaccines. How do you feel about HPV vaccine for your own daughter?

Mayo Clinic
March 17, 2013

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