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Bay Area Women’s Care News

Editorial: Positive results for HPV vaccine

A recent study proves that a vaccine designed to combat cervical cancer works and has reduced the cancer-causing virus in girls by nearly two-thirds. The study should provide doctors with all of the evidence they need to recommend the vaccine to parents and satisfy the concerns of hesitant parents. There is no excuse for leaving children susceptible to serious disease when a remedy is readily available.

A government study published in Pediatrics compared infection rates for the human papillomavirus in girls and women before the HPV vaccine's debut in 2006 with the rate of infections in the same age group from 2009 to 2012. Researchers found that the four strains of HPV covered by the early vaccine had decreased by 64 percent in girls 14-19, according to the New York Times. Women ages 20-24 saw declines of 34 percent. The rates of HPV in women 25 and older did not decrease.

The HPV virus is so common that public health experts say that most sexually active adults will have it at some point in their lives. While the virus will be benign for many, HPV infections can result in several life-threatening conditions including cancers of the cervix, throat and mouth. It also causes genital warts.

Despite being on the market since 2006, the HPV vaccine hasn't been widely embraced. Only about 40 percent of American girls and 20 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 have been vaccinated. The virus is transmitted through anal, oral or vaginal sex and, more rarely, through childbirth. Doctors suggest that children get vaccinated as early as 11 or 12, well before they are sexually active and when their bodies are more receptive to the drugs.

Many parents balk at vaccinating their children against a sexually transmitted disease at such a young age. Some erroneously equate the vaccination with giving their children permission to have sex. Sensing this resistance, pediatricians have been slow to encourage the vaccinations. These are potentially deadly decisions that should not occur because of misplaced moral objections.

Although the study focused only on girls — boys were not told to get vaccinated until 2011 — it has wide-ranging implications for children of both sexes, and parents should get vaccinations for their children, no matter their gender, both for the sake of their children and their future partners.

The medical and public health communities need to work to increase vaccination rates. They also should examine the efficacy of a lower dosage that would reduce the number of office visits for the vaccination series from three shots to two. Shortening the dosage requirement could make the vaccines more convenient and help boost participation rates.

The HPV vaccine is not a gateway to sexual activity. Instead, it recognizes that children will likely become sexually active at some point in their lifetimes and provides them with protections against potentially deadly diseases. Helping children avoid the risk and worry of cancer as adults is a wonderful, responsible gift.

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  • Patricia St. John, MD
  • Ivelisse Ruiz, MD
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