Controversy around the human papillomavirus vaccine has existed for years. Many worry that requiring the shot to prevent HPV would be synonymous to encouraging teenagers to have unprotected sex.
A new study conducted at Harvard University and University of Southern California found that girls who had received the vaccine did not have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases than girls who did not receive the vaccination. The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and suggests that the HPV vaccine is not a trigger for riskier sexual behavior.
The study looked at insurance databases of girls aged 12 to 18 enrolled in 50 medical plans across the country. They looked at 21,000 vaccinated girls versus 186,000 non-vaccinated girls and compared rates of chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS and syphilis. However, the vaccinated girls had higher STD rates prior to receiving the vaccination so researchers had to look at the rate of change between the two groups. The main question is to see if the vaccination is associated with change (or increase) in sexual behavior.
Anupam Jena, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, remarked on their findings saying we would have expected the rates to go up faster in the vaccinated population. “But we didn’t find that at all.”
Some might say there were some limitations. Researchers did not have data on the extent of sexual activity like number of partners or condom usage. However, this information is not as important as medical data revealing infections. It was the medical data that was used to quantify risky sexual behavior.
HPV can cause cervical cancer in women and other cancers and warts in men. It is spread through sexual activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that girls and boys be vaccinated by the time they are 12 years old. The vaccine comes in three doses and unfortunately only a minority of kids are actually getting all three shots. The resistance to the vaccine seems to be because of the newness of the shot, which was first introduced to the market in 2006, as well a cultural fear of vaccines. This fear of vaccines started when over 100 people got the measles because of unvaccinated children traveling to Disneyland.
Another prominent fear was that the HPV vaccine in particular would be endorsement for teens to engage in risky sexual activity. Anupam Jena believes the best way to handle the reservations about the HPV vaccine is with proper research and scientific data that will either support or disprove certain beliefs. Currently there is limited research on HPV vaccines. This vaccine prevents people from getting cancer and less than 50% of people are taking advantage of it. We must be able to come up with research that shows the importance of the vaccine and this study is on the right track.
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