In the biggest plot twist of the century, a new study found that there’s no correlation between getting the HPV shot and our daughters engaging in risky sexual behaviors — phew!
The human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world — can cause cervical cancer, which is the fourth most common cancer in women. In 2012, the virus killed 266,000 women, according to the World Health Organization.
Luckily there’s a vaccine for HPV. It’s recommended for girls ages 9 to 14, has been available for the past decade. And yet, many parents opt not to take advantage of it. Why? Because apparently they’re worried it’ll encourage their teens to have unprotected, premarital sex.
A new study, however, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal tackles these unsubstantiated fears that prevent teens from getting the life-saving vaccine.
In 2008, British Columbia implemented a school-based HPV vaccination program for girls, but 30 percent of students did not receive it. “When parents are asked why they are hesitant to have their children receive the vaccine, one of the key issues they identify is the concern that the vaccine will encourage children and adolescents to make poorer sexual health choices,” said Dr. Gina Ogilvie, the lead author of the study at the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.
Researchers used data from nearly 300,000 heterosexual female students who took the BC Adolescent Health Survey — a comprehensive population-based survey that students in grades 7 to 12 take every five years — to analyze sexual health behaviors and risk factors, both before and after the vaccine was introduced.
Nu, what did they find? Drumroll please…
The data indicated that, between 2003 and 2013, the percent of girls who reported ever having sex decreased by 3 percent, and use of contraception increased while pregnancy rates decreased (hooray!). Furthermore, the researchers found that the percent of girls who had sex before the age of 14 has decreased significantly since 2008, and the number of sexual partners did not increase.
In short, the study debunks the association between the HPV vaccine and risky sexual behaviors.
Most information about HPV focuses on women because of the deathly risk of cervical cancer, but boys are not immune. The CDC recommends that boys receive the HPV vaccine, too, as it can result in genital warts and anal cancer (as in women), as well as penile and throat cancer. Just as for girls, the CDC recommends that boys as young as 9 receive the HPV vaccine.
A few years ago, pharmaceutical giant Merck released a powerful campaign to encourage parents to give their teens Gardasil, the most commonly used HPV vaccine.
In one commercial, a montage of a young woman’s life flashes by in reverse as she shares she has cervical cancer from HPV. “Who knew that there was something that could have helped protect me from HPV when I was 11 or 12, way before I would even be exposed to it?” she asks.
The campaign was meant to encourage parents to vaccinate their kids, but was met with backlash for shaming parents.
“It’s kind of like Catholic and Jewish guilt combined,” Susie Cambria, a public policy analyst told the Washington Post. “I don’t have any kids, but I can only imagine how badly it makes parents feel.”
But maybe a little shame is necessary to prevent our kids from this deadly infection. And while Merck’s tactics didn’t quite work, hopefully this new study convinces parents to prioritize their children’s health over unsubstantiated Victorian-era ideals.
Oh and P.S… have YOU had the vaccine? Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration gave the official stamp of approval for the HPV vaccine for an older age group. Previously, the vaccine was only available for those between the ages of 9 and 26; now it can be administered to adults up to 45. Get it!