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Reduce your daughter's risk of cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine.

Thomas Secrest's picture
HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine remain a controversial subject in America. People who value vaccines are usually not terribly vocal, while those who are opposed to them often shout their opposition from the rooftops (figuratively of course). So just like the proverbial squeaky wheel, it is the anti-vaccine group that garners most of the attention and press. The problem with this is that it creates a bias picture and gives the illusion that the dangers of vaccines are much more serious than they actually are.

The risk associated with different vaccines can be found on the web site of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Before deciding to vaccinate or not, you should get out your calculator and examine both risk of vaccinating and the risk of not vaccinating. In many cases you will find that the risk of not vaccinating is many times higher than the risk of vaccinating.

Suppose someone comes to you and says they have a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer? Would say, “No thanks” and walk away?

In the past, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths, in women, in the U.S. However, over the last 40 years the numbers have declined due the common use of PAP tests that can detect it at very early stages. Nevertheless, in 2009, 12357 women were diagnosed and 3909 died. As you can see, for this particular cancer, the death rate is almost 32%.

A vaccine that can potentially prevent over 12,000 cases of cancer and save almost 4,000 life’s each year, seems like a vaccine worth taking, nonetheless, like many vaccines, it’s a hard sale.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papilloma virus. HPV is a double stranded DNA virus and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. and the leading cause (90%) of cervical cancer. There are 14.1 million new cases of HPV in the U.S. each year. There are two types of HPV; the lower risk (30% of cases) non-cancer causing form (usually taking the form of genital warts) and the high risk (70% of cases) cancer causing variety. The CDC states that most sexually active people (males and females) will contract the disease at some point in their lives; and unlike love, HPV is forever.

Who can get HPV?

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Both males and females can be infected. For males the infection can be on the skin of the penis or in the oropharynx, while in females, it is usually a genital infection.

Who should get the vaccine and how is it given?

Initially, the recommendation was for females 9-13. However, that has now been expanded to include young males also. The vaccine needs to be given BEFORE the child is sexually active, which is VERY different from the age when you think your child will become sexually active. This vaccine only works when the child is uninfected, it will not cure HPV, only prevent an uninfected child from becoming infected.

Originally the vaccine was given as a 3 shot series over 6 months. However, recent studies suggest that 2 shots are just as effective as 3 shots.

What are the risks of the taking the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine became available in 2006. 23 million doses were given between 2006-2009 and there were 12,424 (0.1035%) adverse events reported. Of the 12,424 events, 94% were found to be mild reactions (e.g. nausea, headache, dizziness, etc.). This leaves 772 (6%) events that were found to be serious adverse reactions, which included 32 deaths. After a full review, none of the deaths were linked to the vaccine and most the serious complications were found to be caused by other conditions or medications (e.g. diabetes, viral illnesses, drug use, birth control pills, etc.).

What is the current state of the HPV vaccination program?

In a study published online, 19 June 2013, in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, reported that about half the girls in the U.S. have been vaccinate and this has contributed to a significant decline in the number of adolescents being diagnosed with HPV since 2006. However, there are still 79 million Americans that are currently infected and capable of spreading the virus to unvaccinated youth and 14 million new cases per year of HPV infection are predicted.

Dr. Frieden notes that “Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies: 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we reach 80% vaccination rates," he said. "For every year we delay in doing so, another 4400 girls will develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes."

I hope the information here will help as you weigh the risks and rewards of vaccines a bit more easily. It’s a tough decision either way, but sometimes, a little math can make it all fall into place and become crystal clear.