Are you familiar with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)? HPV is made up of a group of more than 150 types of viruses spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The vaccine for Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) was approved by the FDA in 2006, and since then, has only grown in popularity. There’s no doubt you’ve had your doctor recommend that your daughter and in more recent times, even your son, should receive this vaccine. However, while many doctors strongly recommend and urge parents to vaccinate their children against HPV, this is not a vaccine that is typically required for children to receive in order to attend school or join other organizations or public functions. Since it is often not a required vaccine, you may be wondering if it’s even worthwhile. Fortunately, we’ve put together some information to help you to separate the myths from the facts so you can decide for yourself. Here are six myths about the HPV vaccine dispelled.
Myth: HPV Is Rare
Fact: HPV is far more common than most people realize. On average, 80% of sexually active woman and 90% of sexually active men will contract some form of HPV. It can be difficult to determine whether you have HPV since it doesn’t always cause any symptoms. Other times it produces warts, and approximately every 20 minutes someone is diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV.
However, there is no need to panic over HPV. As Janice K. Hillman, MD, a physician at Penn Medicine notes, the HPV vaccine will protect against many types of HPV. That alone, can make receiving the HPV vaccine worth it.
Myth: Only Girls Get HPV
Fact: HPV is especially well known for causing cervical cancer in girls, but it can also pose many other dangers for men including HPV-related cancers of the anus, neck, and head. These conditions have all risen dramatically over the past few years, prompting doctors to recommend that parents have their sons vaccinated for HPV.
Dr. Hillman adds, “Boys need to get the vaccine since they not only spread it, but there is currently no test to see if boys have HPV. They can share the virus unknowingly, so it’s important to make sure they do everything they can to avoid getting it and spreading it.”
All children, both boys and girls, should begin the three-dose series when they are between 11-12 years old. Women can be vaccinated until they reach the age of 26, whereas men can be vaccinated until the age of 21.
Myth: Since the HPV vaccine is not required, it’s really not important
Fact: “This is a very common perception among parents,” says Dr. Hillman. But while the vaccine might not be a national requirement at the moment, it’s hardly unimportant.
Although the HPV vaccine is not mandatory in most states, this could soon be changing. Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. now require that kids be immunized. Also, 42 states and territories have introduced legislation to require the vaccine, fund it, or educate the public about it.
Regardless of whether or not your state has laws or regulations about the HPV vaccine put in place, it is still a highly important vaccine for your children to receive. HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer and it is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide. By choosing to vaccinate your children against HPV, you are taking a major step to help prevent these deadly diseases. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Myth: The HPV vaccine will encourage my children to have unprotected sex
Fact: An October 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics found that getting the HPV vaccine at the recommended age was not associated with increased sexual activity rates. The study found that girls who received the HPV vaccine were not more likely to get pregnancy tests, a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease, or counseling about contraceptives.
“There has been no proof that the HPV vaccine causes girls to feel like they have ‘permission’ to have sex. The vaccine is not about stopping a sexually transmitted infection. It’s about stopping the spread of cervical and other cancers”, explains Dr. Hillman.
Similarly, another study found that women who received the HPV vaccine did not have an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections compared to women who did not receive the vaccine.
“Getting the vaccine actually encourages them to be safer and to take more precautions if they do have sex,” says Dr. Hillman.
Myth: The HPV vaccine has terrible side effects
Fact: “There have been some cases of severe reactions to the HPV vaccine, but statistically, the vaccine is felt to be safe,” says Dr. Hillman.
Dr. Hillman has heard concerns from worried parents before. “They wonder if the vaccine will cause sterility, or trouble with learning and memory. Or they’ve heard about effects like fainting from the pain of the shot. However, the vaccine is very safe and extremely effective.”
In actuality, the HPV vaccine has the same side effects as any other vaccine: pain where the shot was administered, nausea, and headaches, all of which go away very quickly. They are minor effects or drawbacks especially when compared to all of the benefits you gain from the shot in the long run.
Myth: The HPV vaccine is ineffective
Fact: While it is true that individuals can still get HPV with the vaccine, this doesn’t mean that the shot is ineffective. The vaccine is effective for protecting girls and boys from approximately 90% of HPV-related warts and 70% of cervical cancers.
There are a few reasons why people who have had the vaccine can still get HPV:
- They were exposed to it before getting the vaccine
- They were exposed to it before completing the entire vaccination—3 separate shots given over the course of several months
- They are exposed to certain strains—there are more than 150 strains of HPV, and the vaccine protects against 9 of the most serious strains
“It is important that parents and adolescents talk with their healthcare provider if they have questions about whether they should or should not receive the HPV series,” says Dr. Hillman. “Even if you were already exposed to HPV or you did not complete the series, there may be good reason to receive the HPV vaccination.”