There has been a lot of talk about the measles vaccine over the past few weeks. An outbreak at Disneyland, which has spread to several other states, has brought the debate about vaccines to the forefront. Parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children, for various reasons, have found themselves needing to defend their decision while advocates of vaccines remind everyone that the vaccines are safe and the study claiming a link to autism was debunked when it was discovered the author of the study outright lied.
The measles vaccine debate reminds us there is another vaccine that can help prevent disease, which isn’t fully embraced by parents. This is the HPV vaccine. It is given over a series of three shots and recommended for both boys and girls starting at age 11 or 12. This vaccine helps prevents contracting the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which can cause cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer as well as genital warts. The vaccine should be given before a person becomes sexually active.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, only 57 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 had received the first dose of the vaccine and only 38 percent had received all three doses. The vaccine was originally recommended for girls but that recommendation now includes boys as well.
As with all vaccines, there is talk about the possible side effects and safety concerns. According to the CDC, some of the common side effects include pain and redness at the injection site, dizziness, nausea and headache. Fainting has also been reported, however, this could be caused by fear of needles. Although there were 32 deaths reported to the CDC, it was determined that most of these occurred because of other reasons, such as heart failure, viral illness, diabetes and illegal drug use. Other problems, such as blood clots could usually be attributed to a previous risk for blood clots. Both the FDA and CDC consider this vaccine to be "safe and effective."
There are also other concerns. Some parents feel that giving their daughter or son the HPV vaccine is giving them permission to engage in risky sexual behavior. They feel it is saying, "You are protected now, go ahead, do whatever you want." Because of this, they feel it is better to forego the vaccine. Physicians might also be to blame for the lower vaccination rates. Robert Bednarczyk, an assistant professor at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, in a commentary on the study said that physicians had not recommended the vaccine in the same way they recommend other childhood vaccines. He believes some doctors might feel uncomfortable discussing sexual concerns with children as young as 11 years old and their parents.
Recent research has shown that those who get the vaccine do not engage in unsafe sex any more than those who did not get the vaccine. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at medical histories of 21,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who had received the HPV vaccine and compared them to 180,000 girls who did not have the vaccine.** The rates of STDs were not higher in those who had received the vaccine, indicating that those who had been given the vaccine did not engage in riskier or unsafe sex.** ** While concerns about the possibility of unsafe sex is always an important concern, it seems that providing children with the vaccine, which can reduce their risk of contracting HPV by up to 82 percent, is not considered a "free pass" for sexual freedom by the teens receiving the vaccine.** Since the vaccine was made available, the rate of HPV infections have decreased by half.
Talking to your children, and keeping the discussion going, about safe sex practices and self-respect is the best way parents can help their children develop safe sex habits.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.