The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is still relatively new. Though this vaccine has been highly touted for its ability to protect against HPV, a growing base of information and data has led to new controversies surrounding the vaccine. This article introduces the basics about HPV and the vaccine and explores the benefits and risks of the use of such a vaccine.
What Is HPV?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is estimated that about 80 percent of women and 50 percent of men will have HPV at some point in their lives. According to the Ohio State University, there are over 70 strains of HPV, some of which are latent (meaning you can exhibit no symptoms and pass it to others without realizing it). While many strains are harmless and go away on their own, others can cause serious health problems, such as genital warts or cervical cancer.
HPV Vaccine Effects
The HPV vaccine, which was introduced in 2007, is licensed by the FDA and approved by the CDC. This vaccine protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus. Two of the strains that the vaccine protects against are known to cause 90 percent of genital warts cases and 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. In addition, a recent study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health indicates that the HPV vaccine encourages “herd protection” – basically, the rates of HPV in unvaccinated individuals will likely drop significantly as more and more people receive the HPV vaccine. This is very promising data since it indicates that the prevalence of the disease could begin to decrease as the years go on.
The vaccine does not treat HPV and it does not protect against all strains of the disease. In addition, some side effects have been reported, including dizziness, headaches and fainting.
Despite the vaccine’s proven health benefits, some controversy has arisen in the wake of the vaccine’s introduction. Topics about the vaccine that have sparked discussion include:
- Health risks: From a health standpoint, some are concerned that the vaccine doesn’t provide enough protection since it doesn’t prevent all strains of the disease, including some that can cause cervical cancer. In addition, the vaccine is so new that little is known about the long-term effects. Even so, the vaccine is still recommended by numerous organizations, including The American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases, The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- Age of vaccination: The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that both boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 14. The intention of vaccination at an early age is to protect children before they become sexually active. Some parents have indicated that they feel this is too early to vaccinate a child for an STD, while others feel it will encourage teens to be more sexually promiscuous.
- Vaccination concerns: In recent years, more parents have become concerned with the way vaccinations affect their children’s health, even going so far as to forgo some recommended vaccinations. This has been the case with HPV for those parents who feel there are already too many vaccines out there. However, the CDC clarifies that you cannot get HPV from the vaccine.
- Vaccination mandates: Another issue has arisen in response to the Texas governor’s mandate that all 6th graders entering public schools must be vaccinated for HPV. Some Texas parents were outraged by this mandate, while many parents in other states worried that the same requirement would be placed upon their children. HPV mandates are still rare at this point, but they may become more common in the coming years.
Making A Decision
For some, the decision to get the HPV vaccine may be an easy one. As long as you’re between the ages of 11 and 26, you are likely eligible to receive the vaccine. However, those who are unsure whether the vaccine is right for them (or for their child) should talk to their doctor about the pros and cons. Most doctors agree that the benefits of the HPV vaccine outweigh any risks, especially since the actual health risks are few if any.
With this vaccine, there is also a cost and time investment to consider. The vaccine may cost more than $400, which not all insurance companies cover. In addition, the vaccine includes three shots given over a six-month period, so a few visits to the doctor will be required.
Deciding to get a vaccine or have your child be vaccinated can be a difficult decision, but with such strong support from many health organizations, more people are choosing to get the HPV vaccination. Due to its protection against some very dangerous and cancer-causing strains of the most common STD, most people have deciding that the pros far outweigh the cons. However, controversies over this issue will likely continue for many years, especially as new data arises concerning the vaccine’s effects.