Another article on HPV has appeared in this month’s journal Pediatrics. This one is really interesting as it relates to adolescent behaviors, not just to vaccine efficacy.
When the HPV vaccine was first released (over 7 years ago) there were many parents who were skeptical about giving a vaccine, which provided protection against a sexually transmitted infection, to children between the ages of 11 and 12 years. Remember, it does not protect against any other sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy, just HPV.
In my own practice I had many parents who would comment, “ I will give my daughter (we now give the vaccine to boys as well) the vaccine when she is older, as I don’t want her to think that she can have sex, just because she had the vaccine”. I have often heard this same comment made by parents when I suggest that birth control pills might help their daughter’s adolescent acne. I have not only raised my own three sons, but many an adolescent in my practice and I have yet to believe that a vaccine or a medication are the reason a teen decides to have pre-marital sex. In fact, I think that most teens don’t THINK enough before having sex!! They often think after the fact, when they feel scared or remorseful, and then want to make sure that they were protected, but it is already too late. (remember: the immature, impulsive teen brain!)
So, this study conducted by Kaiser Permanete/Emory University, followed more than 1,300 pre-teen girls who received the HPV vaccine over a three year period. In fact according to Dr. Robert Bednarczyk, the lead author, “there was no increase in pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections or birth control counseling, all of which suggest the HPV vaccine does not have an impact on increased sexual activity”.
While the HPV vaccine protects both boys and girls from four serotypes of HPV that cause both pre cancerous and cancerous lesions as well as genital warts, getting vaccinated does not modify adolescent girls (and one would assume boys as well) sexual behavior. What is does do is to provide protection before the adolescent is ever exposed to the virus, so that once they enter their sexually active years they have antibody to protect them.
Unfortunately, not even 50% of adolescents have received even one dose of the HPV vaccine, and only 35 % (girls rates higher than boys) have completed the 3 dose series.
Hopefully this study will allay some parental misconceptions about the HPV vaccine and we will see immunization rates continue to rise.