The HPV Vaccine: Myths vs. Factsby Eileen Bailey Health Writer
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 viruses. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, and others can lead to cancers of the cervix, head and neck, anus, rectum, penis, vagina, or vulva. Thankfully, the HPV vaccine can prevent infection by the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer. But while it was first approved by the FDA in 2006, there are still many myths and misunderstandings about the vaccine. Read on to separate fact from fiction.
Myth: The body’s immune system clears HPV, so you don’t need to be vaccinated
Myth: The HPV vaccine may be harmful to my child
Facts: The FDA approved the vaccine in 2006, and more than 270 million doses of the vaccine have been given since then, according to the American Cancer Society; studies continue to show it is safe. Some people may experience a headache or fever after receiving the vaccine, or they may notice redness or swelling around the injection site, but these are mild side effects and usually disappear within a day or two. One thing to note is that anyone with a severe yeast allergy should not get the vaccine.
Myth: Only girls should receive the HPV vaccine
Facts: Many people think the HPV vaccine is just a vaccine for cervical cancer; while this is true, and the vaccine protects against about 70 percent of cervical cancers, according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, its benefits don’t stop there. It can also protect against types of HPV that cause genital warts in any gender, as well as cancers beyond the cervix, such as throat cancer. In fact, HPV-related throat cancers in men are on the rise, so boys should be vaccinated, too.
Myth: You can only get the HPV vaccine if you have never had sex
Facts: It’s true that it’s recommended that children and teens of any gender receive the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active and exposed to HPV. However, the Gardasil-9 vaccine has been approved by the FDA for both men and women up to the age of 45. You can even receive the vaccine if you already have HPV; just know that it won’t treat your existing virus, but rather help protect you from additional viruses, according to Planned Parenthood.
Myth: The HPV vaccine must not be important because schools don’t require it
Facts: The HPV vaccine is required in some states, such as Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and legislation has been introduced to make it required in many other states, according to Penn Medicine. Even if your state does not require the vaccine for your child to attend school, the vaccine is important to help protect against cervical cancer, the fourth-most common cancer in women worldwide, and other cancers. In fact, cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. have declined significantly thanks to the HPV vaccine.
Myth: The HPV vaccine encourages teens to become sexually active at an earlier age
Facts: Children receive numerous vaccines when they are growing up and probably do not think much about the reason for the vaccine. Preventive vaccines are a normal part of growing up. Studies show no difference in sexual activity between children and teens who did or did not receive the vaccine, according to Penn Medicine.
Myth: The vaccine isn’t needed because HPV is rare
Facts: Four out of five women will be infected with HPV by age 50, and it’s also very common in men, according to the CDC. Most people’s immune system will clear the virus on its own without it causing problems, and because there are often no symptoms, many people will never know they have the virus.
Myth: The HPV vaccine causes early menopause
Facts: The virus does not cause premature ovarian failure, which can lead to early menopause, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The safety of the HPV vaccine is continuously monitored and the six reports issued related to ovarian failure have found no link between the HPV vaccine and ovarian failure or early menopause.
The bottom line: The HPV vaccine is safe and effective
Despite the prevalence of myths about the HPV vaccine, research shows it is a safe and effective way to prevent several types of cancers, including cervical and throat cancers, along with genital warts. Getting your child vaccinated is a sure way to reduce their risk of cancer later in life.