“I feel the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is important because it is truly an anti-cancer vaccine.”— Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics
“(The) HPV vaccine gives us an opportunity to markedly reduce the burden of cancer on women and men.”— Joseph A. Bocchini, Jr., President of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a large family of 100 virus types that infect human skin and mucous membranes, many strains of which are spread through sexual contact and are responsible for genital warts.
More importantly, some of these strains are high-risk and directly linked to several types of cancer in men and women, including cervical cancer, rectal cancer, and oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancers.
And — most surprisingly — according to the American Sexual Health Association, 4 out of 5 sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime!
“Most people will be exposed to and infected by human papillomaviruses in their lifetimes. Although most people will eliminate the infection within 1-2 years, a persistent infection with one of the types of HPV capable of causing cancer can cause changes in how cells divide that ultimately lead to the development of cancer.”
Speaking as a survivor of invasive cervical cancer, it’ll probably come as no great surprise to anyone that I’ve had both of my daughters vaccinated for HPV in spite of the concerns and controversy over the vaccination.
But the HPV vaccine isn’t just for kids — adults can and should be vaccinated against HPV.
Receiving FDA approval in 2006, the HPV vaccine is still somewhat in its infancy when compared to other vaccines that have been around for decades which understandably adds to the public’s speculation over its safety and effectiveness.
Has it really been tested enough? What are the risks? Can this vaccine harm me — or my children — in some way?
As you read on, you’ll find answers to these questions and many more, including what is perhaps the most important question of all: should we get vaccinated, anyway?
Look, I understand (all too well) the risks associated with contracting a high-risk strain of HPV.
I’ve been a cervical cancer survivor for 16 years and counting, and that’s exactly why I chose to approve the required multiple doses of the HPV vaccine for my daughters — risks be damned.
I’ll walk you through some of the gory details of my treatment later on but trust me when I tell you this: a shot in the arm is a cakewalk compared to what you’ll go through if you develop HPV-related cancer.
Adult HPV Vaccine Pros And Cons
As with anything else we encounter in life, there are pros and cons where the HPV vaccine is concerned.
But, if I’m being completely honest here — and you should never expect anything less from me — the pros of the HPV vaccine greatly outweigh the potential cons.
I’ll explain why.
HPV Vaccine Pros
The pros of the HPV vaccine can be summed up rather simply:
- Protects against 90% of cancers caused by HPV — the most common STD with NO cure
- Prevents 90% of genital warts
- Since approval in 2006, there has been a 64% reduction in HPV infections in teenage girls
“The HPV vaccine we are now using is expected to provide protection against 90% of the cancers caused by HPV. The vaccine also prevents 90% of genital warts,” Dr. Bocchini explained.
The prevention of HPV is especially important when you consider that condoms, while always a smart choice, do not offer complete protection against the virus. (I know, right? I was shocked to find that out, too.)
Since the first HPV vaccine became available, teenage girls in the United States have enjoyed a 64% reduction in HPV infections from strains covered by the vaccine.
“We are already seeing a remarkable impact,” Dr. Bocchini told me when he spoke of countries that are administering the vaccine.
“Many countries have reported a decrease in infections with the types in the vaccine as well as in the cervical pre-cancer changes seen on PAP testing due to those types. In addition, there has been a significant reduction in cases of genital warts.”
Additionally, there has even been a decline in HPV vaccine-type infections among those that have not been vaccinated, which suggests there is positive herd protection taking place.
This is fantastic news, right?
Medical science has made it possible to stop the spread of unsightly genital warts AND stop HPV-related cancer in its tracks!
Drive past any doctor’s office right now and you’ll see hordes of people lined up outside, impatiently waiting to get their doses of this miraculous vaccine.
Ehh… not quite.
HPV Vaccine Cons
There are a few cons to the HPV vaccine, which include:
- Possible mild side effects: pain, redness/swelling at the injection site; nausea, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dizziness, or fever
- Risk of allergic reaction: 3 reactions for every 1 million injections
- Potential vaccine failure: 2-10%, increases with age
There are potential side effects associated with the HPV vaccine.
The vast majority of common side effects are very minor, but there is a minuscule chance that a severe allergic reaction might occur.
Severe allergic reactions occur at a rate of about three reactions per every million doses of the vaccine (which is on par for vaccines of other types).
Granted, these reactions are very rare, but not impossible and that’s what makes HPV vaccination so scary for a lot of people. I’ll cover these potential reactions in greater depth later on.
There may also be some worry that the vaccine won’t work at all.
Vaccines can and do fail in anywhere between 2-10% of recipients.
Sometimes the failure is a result of incorrect vaccine storage or administration, other times it can be the result of a person’s own genetics, age, immune system, or overall health.
The Truth And Facts About HPV: It Is The Most Common STD And There Is No Cure
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is more than just one single virus — there are more than 100 known strains.
Think of HPV like any regular extended family: there are plenty of harmless folks that make up the majority of the clan, several pain-in-the-ass members that occasionally cause a ruckus, and then there are the few black sheep nobody wants hanging around the family barbeque.
Many strains of the HPV virus do nothing much at all; they’re just kinda there until your body fights them off and you never even know you had them.
Some strains are responsible for common warts that appear on places like your hands and feet — pretty distressing for those that have them, but generally not a big deal in terms of your overall health.
Other strains of HPV cause genital warts.
While these sexually transmitted strains are highly contagious, they’re considered “low-risk” because they don’t typically cause cancer.
The worst of the lot are the high-risk strains — those HPV strains that are responsible for several types of cancer.
Not everyone who has a high-risk strain will develop cancer — some bodies fight off the infection and it goes away — but a carrier can easily spread the strain to his or her sexual partners, whether they have symptoms or not.
How Is HPV Transmitted?
Around 40 strains of the HPV virus are spread through direct skin-to-skin contact.
This holds true for the strains responsible for genital warts and the strains that can cause cancer, both of which are passed between sexual partners during vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
Condoms don’t offer complete protection during sexual activity because a condom might not cover all of the skin that’s affected by the virus.
Given the number of types and their contagious nature, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease out there.
In the United States alone, there are around 14 million new cases of HPV every year.
To put this in perspective, there are around 20 million new diagnoses of STDs made each year…roughly half of those occur in people aged 15 to 24.
How Is HPV Diagnosed In Women?
A diagnosis of HPV in a woman largely depends on the strain she’s infected with and whether she is showing symptoms.
Genital warts might appear as flesh-colored bumps or lumps in various sizes.
They might be raised or flat and can have a smooth or somewhat cauliflower-like texture, growing sporadically or clustered together in groups around the vulva, anus, groin, and vagina.
Genital warts inside the vagina can cause abnormal discharge or bleeding after sex. There might also be tenderness, itching, or burning around the site of infection.
High-risk strains of HPV can be detected through regularly-scheduled pap smears, which is why those pesky little tests are so important.
High-risk strains can be responsible for abnormal cellular changes, also known as dysplasia, in the cervix. Over time, these changes may become cancerous.
“HPV is responsible for nearly all cervical cancers,” Dr. Bocchini told me. “Although the rate of cervical cancer has decreased significantly in the US due to screening, over 11,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and over 4,000 women die of complications of cervical cancer.”
How Is HPV Detected In Men?
The tricky thing about HPV in men is that they’re largely asymptomatic — most will never develop symptoms and the infection just eventually goes away on its own accord.
Even so, a man who is infected can still unknowingly spread the infection to his sexual partners, whether he’s showing symptoms or not.
Genital warts appear as they do in women, forming on the penis, testicles, groin, thighs, or in/around the anus.
High-risk strains that have developed into cancer may cause symptoms in the affected area.
These may include changes in skin color or thickening skin and growths that aren’t warts on the penis.
Anal cancer caused by HPV may cause bleeding, pain, discharge, or itching, and can cause bowel movement changes.
HPV-related oral cancers can cause throat soreness, coughing, difficulty swallowing or breathing, vocal changes, ear pain, weight loss, or a lump in the neck.
Can HPV Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV.
The upside is that most genital HPV infections will go away on their own after a few years. Many folks are never even aware of the infection.
There are treatment options available for genital wart removal — including cryosurgery, electrocautery, laser therapy, acid destruction, and prescription creams — all of which should be carried out or prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider. (Please don’t try to DIY your way through genital wart removal at home.)
Treatments for precancers and cancers caused by HPV can vary from minor procedures to major surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of those treatment options, depending on the stage and the area(s) affected.
Some treatments for HPV-related precancers or cancers can cause pregnancy complications or leave a woman unable to bear children entirely.
Just look at my uterus, for example. Oh, wait…you can’t. Because I don’t have one anymore.
HPV Is Linked To Several Types Of Cancer
This is the part when things start to get really scary.
HPV is responsible for many cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, rectum, penis, and oropharynx (throat).
It’s responsible for most of them, in fact: 91% of cervical cancers, 75% of vaginal cancers, 69% of vulvar cancers, 63% of penile cancers, 91% of anal cancers (93% of female anal cancers, 89% of male anal cancers), and 70% of oropharynx cancers (63% in females, 72% in males) are due to HPV.
“Over 35,000 women and men are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer each year in the United States,” Dr. Bocchini told me.
Cancers of the genital areas and cancers of the throat are caused by the same strains of HPV.
Yep…oral sex can result in eventual cancer if a person carries a high-risk strain of the virus and their immune system doesn’t fight it off.
The same holds true for anal sex. That virus really gets around.
Cervical cancer is easily caught with regularly scheduled pap smears, but it used to be one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths in women.
Writing that sentence is a stark reminder about how easily I could have been part of that statistic, myself.
The HPV Vaccine Explained: How And Why It Works
What Is The HPV Vaccination and How Does It Work?
The HPV vaccine works like any other vaccine for any other virus.
It essentially makes your body produce antibodies in advance, preparing your immune system for action if and when it comes in contact with the real thing later on.
It’s kind of like taking a test in school: if you study the material thoroughly ahead of time, you’ll know the answer to every question that gets thrown your way.
The HPV vaccine is actually made from proteins that look like the virus but aren’t the real virus, which means it can’t give HPV to a non-infected person.
The HPV vaccine was specifically designed to provide immunity to the strains of HPV that are responsible for most HPV-related cancers and genetial warts.
In its early years, the vaccine included HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancers, along with strains 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts.
As of 2017, the only HPV vaccination used in the United States is Gardasil 9, which protects people from those four strains and five other types (31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that are known to cause cancer.
Who Can Get The HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is approved for use in those aged 9 and older and recommended for girls aged 11-26, boys aged 11-21, transgender persons aged 11-26, and men through age 26 who have sex with other men and who have not been previously vaccinated.
“In our practice, we offer the vaccine to both boys and girls starting at 11 years old. We offer it to all patients at the 11-year-old well visit,” Dr. Hes told me.
“In my practice, all patients are vaccinated according to the CDC schedule. Therefore, these families are pro-vaccine, but the HPV vaccine is not mandatory in NYS so some parents opt to give it at age 12 or 13.”
“I can say that all persons 18-26 years of age who were not vaccinated earlier, or who have not completed the HPV vaccine series, need to receive HPV vaccine,” Dr. Bocchini told me. “Only a small percentage of 18-26-year-olds are currently getting the vaccine. We need to make sure that they are aware of the vaccine and its benefits.”
As I mentioned before, however, the HPV vaccine isn’t just for younger folks; those aged 27 through 45 are candidates, as well.
“I do recommend the vaccine to older age groups because though they are likely to have been exposed to HPV, including some vaccine strains, they may still have some benefit from it,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me.
“In my experience, with HIV positive patients (because I am an infectious disease physician), the enthusiasm and uptake have been very good.”
There have been new vaccine recommendations under recent discussion for those in the 27-45 age group. The vaccine was approved for use in that age group in October 2018.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the CDC voted 10 to 4 to recommend that unvaccinated adults aged 27-45 should discuss the HPV vaccine with their doctors.
The HPV vaccine is not currently licensed for use in those over 45.
Women who are currently breastfeeding are safe to receive the vaccine, however, pregnant women should not.
If a pregnant woman accidentally receives a dose during a not-yet-discovered pregnancy, additional doses should wait until after the pregnancy.
No pregnancy-related health concerns over the vaccine have been discovered by the CDC, but it’s always smart to err on the side of caution.
Why Are Young Kids Being Vaccinated Against HPV?
Just as we vaccinate our kids against things like measles or tetanus before they may come in contact with those diseases, the HPV vaccine is most effective when it’s given long before exposure to the virus.
After receiving the vaccine, their little immune systems will start making antibodies so if they ever do come in contact with those strains of HPV, they’ll have a well-established immunity in place.
For this reason, waiting until your teenager becomes sexually active can be risky.
As I mentioned before, strains of genital HPV are spread through sexual contact, even if a condom is used.
I’m going to sound like a high school sex-ed teacher for a moment, but here goes: just like pregnancy, it only takes one time.
Should Those With One Strain Of HPV Receive The Vaccine?
I wondered about this, too. The CDC notes that the HPV vaccine still offers protection to people who already have the virus.
It makes sense when you consider that the vaccine covers nine strains of the virus. A person can be infected by more than one strain of HPV.
“18-26-year-olds may have already been infected by one or more of the HPV types in the vaccine,” Dr. Bocchini told me. “However, the vaccine will still protect them against those HPV types to which they had not been exposed so it will benefit them.”
The vaccine will not, however, treat or cure the strain a person is already infected with. The HPV vaccine also does not eliminate the need for regularly scheduled pap smears.
Why Is It Necessary To Give The HPV Vaccine In Multiple Doses?
HPV Vaccine Schedule
With the public’s best interests in mind, the CDC makes its recommendations based on the studies it performs over time.
The HPV vaccine has been found to work best when given in two doses that are at least six months apart for those aged nine to 14 years old.
Those aged 11-12 should get two vaccinations between six and 12 months apart.
For anyone who begins the vaccine series at age 15 or older, three doses over a period of six months are recommended.
The HPV vaccine series should always be completed no matter when the first dose was given or how much time has passed, but a person doesn’t need to start the entire series from scratch.
Is One HPV Vaccination Shot Effective?
Studies are being done to see just how effective one shot of the HPV vaccine is in the long term.
There have been some early findings from one study performed in India that are promising.
One dose of the HPV vaccine has been shown to provide lasting protection from the virus, at least in the short term.
Studies beyond seven years will need to be performed to show for certain just how effective a single dose might be, and for how long.
How Long Does HPV Vaccination Last?
The HPV vaccine has only been around since 2006.
Current studies have monitored individuals over ten years and so far there hasn’t been any indication that protection weakens during that time.
What Risks Are Associated With The HPV Vaccine?
Is The HPV Vaccine Safe?
The HPV vaccine underwent years of testing in thousands of people before it was ever approved.
Gardasil 9, for instance, was tested in more than 15,000 women and men. After the vaccine was deemed to be both effective and safe, it was approved for use in the public.
Since June of 2006 until December of 2017, more than 100 million doses of vaccines for HPV were given in the United States.
Both the CDC and FDA keep a close watch for any problems that may arise with the vaccination, and there have been numerous studies performed to ensure its continued safety.
How Vaccine Problems Are Reported: Understanding VAERS
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, also known as VAERS, is how the CDC tracks potential safety issues and adverse effects of vaccines administered in the United States.
It is important to note that ANYONE can file a report, whether they work in the medical field as a doctor or nurse, work for a vaccine manufacturer, or are simply just a member of the general public.
This self-reporting system collects information about the type of vaccine administered, the person who received it, and any adverse effect(s) that followed.
This data, which is available to the public, enables the CDC to catch any potentially serious problems with a vaccine as early as possible.
However, there are several limitations to this system:
- Data shared and obtained through VAERS won’t necessarily prove that a vaccine caused an adverse effect. Why? Because VAERS data shows reports of adverse effects, but those reports are not necessarily confirmed without or until further investigation.
- While reports are more likely to be made for serious adverse effects rather than mild ones, VAERS reports often contain errors or lack important details.
- There may also be an uptick in the rates of reports being made as public awareness grows following media attention for a given adverse effect, which adds a degree of bias to the entire system.
- Lastly, VAERS data can’t be accurately used to calculate the rate of an adverse effect in a given population.
Click here to understand more about VAERS, how it works, and the limitations of the data collected (as outlined by the CDC).
What Are The Possible Side Effects Of HPV Vaccination?
There is always a risk of side effects with vaccinations and the HPV vaccine is no different.
The vast majority of side effects associated with the HPV vaccine are mild and should go away on their own in short order.
These side effects can include pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness at the site of the injection. There may be a little bit of soreness in the arm for a day or two, as well.
Additional side effects can include nausea, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dizziness, or fever.
“In our experience using this vaccine, the side effects we observed have been a sore arm, low-grade fever 1-3 days after the injection, and sometimes boys become a bit lightheaded and need to rest a few minutes just after the vaccine administration,” Dr. Hes told me.
Fainting or jerking movements can occur after vaccines of any type (and after medical procedures in general).
It is recommended that those receiving the HPV vaccine should remain seated or lying down for 15 minutes to avoid fainting-related injuries.
According to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System), out of over 29 million doses of Gardisil 9 administered since its licensure between 2014 and 2019, there have been 10,693 (363 serious) reports of adverse events.
Serious adverse events like death are talked about in the section ‘Can HPV Vaccination Actually Cause Death?’, as the HPV vaccine can be potentially dangerous to people with severe allergies, particularly to yeast.
This syndrome occurs when a person’s immune system damages nerve cells, which can cause paralysis.
Also according to VAERS, out of more than 29 million doses of Gardasil 9 that were given between 2014 and 2017 (the last full year reported), there were only 4 reports of GBS.
To date, the CDC has not found any evidence that suggests there is a safety problem with the Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine or that there’s a connection with it causing GBS.
Can HPV Vaccination Cause Fertility Or Reproductive Problems?
Further study is required to see if the HPV vaccine is affecting overall fertility and birth rates.
As it stands for the 25-29 age group, birth rates for women have fallen in recent years.
The referenced study looked at eight million women in that age group from 2007 to 2014; it was found that 60% of non-vaccinated women had at least one pregnancy, but only 35% of vaccinated women became pregnant.
In the women in that age group who were married, 75% of unvaccinated women had conceived a child and only 50% of vaccinated women had done the same.
Without further study, it’s hard to know for certain if this decline in birth rates is due to the vaccine itself, or if it is simply because women are taking greater control regarding their own reproductive choices and family planning.
The study did not look at the effects of the HPV vaccine on male fertility.
In addition, no evidence has been found to link HPV vaccines to premature menopause, also known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) that causes infertility.
Gardasil 9 was specifically looked at over a period of three years, during which there were three reports of POI. Those cases did not provide enough information to confirm the diagnosis.
The CDC then studied reports of nearly 200,000 girls aged nine through 26.
Out of all of them, there was only one recipient who received the HPV vaccination and was also diagnosed with POI. The study found that HPV vaccination poses no increased risk of premature menopause.
If POI was being caused by the HPV vaccine (or other vaccines), there would be more incidences showing up in those who are vaccinated.
The bottom line with the HPV vaccine and possible fertility problems is to realize that the real risk — until further research is concluded — is in contracting the HPV virus, which can have an adverse effect on a woman’s fertility.
The HPV virus — especially cervical strains — can make it harder for a woman to conceive a child and may increase her chances of miscarriage, depending on the strain of the virus she carries.
So, while further study is necessary to determine if the HPV vaccine is affecting overall fertility and birth rates, what we do know now, is that the HPV virus itself DEFINITELY can have an effect on fertility.
Can HPV Vaccination Actually Cause Death?
If you spend any time on social media at all, you’ve probably seen at least one “story” of someone dying after receiving the HPV vaccine — or any vaccine for that matter.
Over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2017, there were 29 million doses of the Gardasil 9 given and there were 7 reports of death after an HPV vaccination, although only two were verified.
Prior to that period, from 2006 to 2015, there were 117 reported cases of death out of 80 million vaccine doses. Many didn’t contain enough information for verification, but 51 did.
The CDC reviewed each case very carefully and found that the evidence did not suggest a causal link between the HPV vaccination and the deaths.
There was one case in 2008 that met the burden of proof that an HPV vaccine caused death.
A 21-year-old woman was diagnosed with an arrhythmia, or an irregular pulse, after receiving her second dose of Gardasil in 2007. Following her third dose in June 2008, she felt dizzy and faint but didn’t go to the doctor.
She passed away on June 23rd, from an arrhythmia that was attributed to an autoimmune response to the HPV vaccine she had received.
A claim with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was filed by the family in 2010, but in 2016, the family hadn’t met the burden of proof that the HPV vaccine caused the arrhythmia.
An appeal was made and in 2017, the family received compensation for the young woman’s death.
It should be noted here that the vaccine (Gardasil, which has been discontinued vs. Gardasil 9 that is now in use) involved in this case is no longer used in the United States.
A total of two lawsuits, including the 2008 case, were ultimately awarded monetary compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for deaths that were allegedly attributed to the HPV vaccine.
The important thing to note is that these monetary compensations do not prove the vaccine was actually responsible for the deaths.
70% of petitions and subsequent lawsuits that are awarded compensation by the VICP are done so through negotiated settlements — without the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaching a definitive conclusion after reviewing the evidence.
If you want to read more, this article goes into detail about how the program protects drug companies in the U.S. from being sued and in turn can cause conspiracy theories.
With all of that being said, the HPV vaccine can be potentially dangerous to people with severe allergies, particularly to yeast.
Anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, is rare but can occur given the right circumstances. Those with severe allergies should always consult with their doctor before getting the HPV vaccine.
Severe reactions might emerge as hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, swelling in the face or throat, a fast heartbeat or weakness that can start minutes to hours after the vaccine is given.
But these types of reactions are rare, as well.
During a three-year period from 2014 to 2017, 29 million HPV vaccine doses were given in the United States and there were 7,244 reports of reactions after vaccination.
Of these, less than 3 percent (186) of them were deemed to be serious. (Click here to download the latest full breakdown of adverse effects and reactions.)
The HPV Vaccine Controversy
The HPV vaccine controversy usually involves:
- Underage sexual activity
- The spread of misinformation
- Parent apprehension
The HPV vaccine first became available to the public in 2006 after years of testing in clinical trials involving thousands of men and women.
Since that time, a number of studies have been performed worldwide to continuously investigate its effectiveness and safety.
In the United States, the FDA and CDC work together to keep a close watch on any problems that may arise with the vaccine to ensure the public’s safety.
Still, in the grand scheme of things and especially for parents who are considering the vaccine for their children, this one is still pretty new.
We know that sexually-transmitted HPV is bad but we worry about the HPV vaccine’s effectiveness and we worry about any long-term effects it may have on our kids.
There is a misconception that the vaccine is intended for those who are sexually active or will be very soon, when in fact the HPV vaccine actually works best when it’s administered long before one is exposed to the virus.
“The advantage of giving the vaccine at 11-12 years of age is that it is an age before a person is likely to be exposed to HPV,” Dr. Bocchini explained to me.
While not all teenagers engage in sexual activity, plenty of them will — which is why recommended vaccination begins around age 11 and as early as 9-years-old.
Even though kids that young are generally not sexually active or even thinking about sex, the very idea of giving them a vaccine that’s directly related to their sexual health is kind of…well, icky.
Parents don’t want to think about their precious babies having a sex life. Ever.
For this reason, they may worry that the HPV vaccine will give their kids a reason to go forth unto the world and be promiscuous.
“The stigma of the vaccine and sexual activity has to be taken away,” Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics told me.“I have NEVER seen a child become promiscuous because of this vaccine. That is just nonsense.”
In our digital age, it’s also difficult to ignore social media scaremongering that may or may not be based on fact or some twisted variation of factual information.
Seeing a meme that declares “THIS VACCINE MADE FIVE KIDS GROW VESTIGIAL TAILS BUT BIG PHARMA’S COVERING IT UP OMG” is enough to plant the seed of doubt in our minds.
We’re human — it’s in our nature to question things.
“Some parents are concerned because of the misinformation on the internet about [the] HPV vaccine,” Dr. Bocchini said. “If parents need reassurance, physicians can point to the demonstrated record of safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.”
I imagine this apprehension to be similar to how midcentury parents must have felt when the polio vaccine first became available.
Everyone knew polio was awful and it left behind a wake of devastating effects, yet those parents simply had to trust that the vaccine would offer protection to their children.
And it did.
Decades later, polio has nearly been eradicated and that’s nothing short of a miracle.
As parents, we question every single decision we make for our children and simply hope that we’re making the right call. It’s a hell of a lot of pressure.
Why I Chose To Vaccinate My Kids For HPV
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine and when I made the decision to vaccinate my girls, I didn’t take it lightly.
My daughters have received a ton of vaccinations over the years and I never thought twice about any of them.
Polio? Definitely don’t want them to get sick with that. “Poke ‘em in the arm, doctor.”
Measles, mumps, and rubella? “Those don’t look like much fun, either… stick them with that needle too, please.”
I pretty much channeled Oprah in that doctor’s office. “YOU get a needle and YOU get a needle…EVERYBODY GETS ALL THE NEEDLES!”
The HPV vaccine felt a little different.
Compared to the rest of all the school-mandated vaccines, the HPV vaccine is kind of in its infancy. We don’t yet know for certain whether there might be long-term issues that pop up 20 or 30 years down the road.
One thing I do know for certain is that cancer sucks (Editor’s note: You can read about my journey with cancer by visiting this link).
About seven weeks after giving birth to my second (and last) daughter, I was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer.
My doctor said that the surge of pregnancy hormones likely played a role in its speedy development since cervical cancer generally isn’t aggressive-growing cancer.
After meeting with an oncologist and surviving some seriously un-fun tests and procedures (I had things stuck in places where no things should ever go, but that’s a story for another day), my cancer was staged at 1B1.
My “cure” involved a radical hysterectomy and lymphadenectomy, which removed the upper 1/3 of my vaginal canal (closest to the cervix) along with my cervix, uterus, and surrounding lymph nodes, ligaments, and tissue.
That experience was not the highlight of my life for many reasons, but I consider myself extremely lucky that the surgery was successful and I didn’t need follow-up radiation or chemo.
While I can’t have more children and I mourned that loss on some level, I have to admit…life without periods is a pretty sweet deal.
I consider that my cancer consolation prize.
Prize or no prize, I would rather have cancer 1,000 times than watch my children go through it even once.
If it’s within my power to do SOMETHING that might protect them from it, I’m all over it — even if it means taking a chance on a “new” vaccine.
And if it’s within my power to encourage adults who are eligible to receive the HPV vaccine to protect them from it, I’m all over that, too.
“I feel the human papillomavirus vaccine is important because it is truly an anti-cancer vaccine,” Dr. Hes told me.
“It prevents HPV infections that lead to cervical cancer, vaginal and vulvar cancer, anal cancer, throat cancer, and penile cancer. It also helps to prevent some strains of genital warts caused by the HPV virus.”
Dr. Bocchini feels the same way.
He said the “HPV vaccine is cancer prevention! We should do our best to make sure that every 11-12-year-old is vaccinated on schedule to prevent HPV related cancers.”
He added that the “HPV vaccine gives us an opportunity to markedly reduce the burden of cancer on women and men.”
And he’s right.
When people don’t receive the HPV vaccine, they remain vulnerable to infection and HPV-related cancers that could have otherwise been avoided.
I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different for me if the vaccine was available sooner.
But that’s also why I made sure my girls received all of their required doses and encourage everyone who is able, to do the same.
I know how it feels to be diagnosed with and treated for cancer-related to HPV — one that’s now far more preventable than it used to be.
“The HPV vaccine is a pathbreaking, cancer-preventing vaccine made with exciting new technology,” Dr. Adalja told me. “It is something that really should be celebrated in a fashion similar to the way the polio vaccine was celebrated.”
Ultimately, as a parent, it is up to you to decide what’s best for you. Ask questions, talk to your doctor, and do your research.
We live in a world where information is always within reach, poised at our fingertips.
It’s vital to educate yourself on the facts about HPV vaccination so that you can make an informed choice, no matter what you decide to do in the end.
Are you concerned about the controversial HPV vaccine and how it might affect you or your kids? Are you an adult who is thinking about getting the vaccine yourself, or have you already received it?
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