The CDC just reported that 25% of girls have been inoculated against the human papiloma virus since a vaccine became available two years ago.
The same study found that approximately 75 to 90 percent of children got vaccinations like chickenpox, hepatitis B and measles, mumps and rubella.
The difference is that unlike the HPV vaccine, those vaccines are not only required by schools, but they have also been around a lot longer.
Plus, they aren’t associated with sex.
So in some ways, after only two years on the market, a 25% vaccination rate for HPV isn’t terrible.
So what are the fears about the HPV vaccine and sex? Mainly that once a girl gets it, she will feel like she has permission to become sexually active.
Some parents have prevented their daughters from getting it for this reason, as have some schools. That’s right! Catholic schools, both in Canada and in England have banned their students from getting the vaccine, claiming that it was "encouraging sexual promiscuity".
But it is not only overblown fears about sex that stand in the way of higher vaccination rates. Another concern has been the cost. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, the vaccine is pretty expensive (over $300).
Some people are also worried about side effects. There have been anecdotal reports of really serious things like extreme pain and even paralysis. There has been no concrete proof that there is a direct link between these situations and the vaccine, and the CDC claims that the vaccine, "was studied in thousands of females (ages 9 through 26 years) around the world and its safety continues to be monitored by CDC and the FDA. Studies have found no serious side effects. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm (where the shot is given). There have recently been some reports of fainting in teens after they got the vaccine." But many people are still worried.
My real concern with the vaccine is not that girls who get it will start wantonly having unprotected sex with every guy they come across, or that they will suffer a rare side effect. Rather, I am concerned that after getting the shot, a lot of girls won’t realize they still need to get pap smears.
This is important because the HPV vaccine doesn’t offer 100% protection from HPV. It offers 70% protection. 70% is a pretty good number. But it’s not a guarantee. Because of this, it is still a good idea to get pap smears as often as your health care recommends.
Getting the HPV vaccine is a personal choice, and it’s not one everyone will be comfortable with. But I’d be interested to learn how the numbers really break down. How many girls aren’t getting it because their parents won’t let them? How many find cost a barrier? How many fear side effects? And how many just don’t see the need?
If you have any insight, I’d love to hear it!
Photo provided by A Boy and His Bike