Pros & Cons of the HPV Vaccine: What Moms of Girls Need to Know

hpv vaccineIf you're the parent of a tween or teen, you've got a big decision to make: Whether or not to vaccinate your child against HPV. Human papillomavirus (an STD) can lead to cervical cancer, so some parents consider the vaccine a no-brainer; others are concerned about its safety (since the vaccine was only introduced in 2006, the long-term effects are still unknown). But what are the facts?

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First, if you're thinking that STDs aren't something you need to be worrying about just yet (the vaccine is generally recommended for girls -- and even boys -- between the ages of 11 and 14), it might surprise you to know just how widespread HPV is among adolescents: One study from the Centers for Disease Control found that one in four (26 percent) young women between the ages of 14 and 19 in the United States (3.2 million teenage girls) is infected with HPV. And while most strains of HPV do not lead to cervical cancer, another study found four cervical cancer–causing HPV types in 3.4 percent of the women who participated (meaning that approximately 3.1 million females in the US could have been at risk for developing cervical cancer at that time).  

With numbers like that, parents at least need to give the vaccine some serious consideration. Here's what you need to know, starting with the benefits of the vaccine.

HPV Vaccine Pros

  1. It seems to work: A 2013 study found that since the innoculation's introduction, vaccine-type HPV prevalence decreased 56 percent among female teenagers 14–19 years of age. 
  2. Research seems to suggest that the vaccine is long lasting, with protective benefits lasting up to 10 years (again, since it's relatively new, longer-term benefits are still unknown).
  3. The majority of reported side effects are relatively mild (fever, dizziness, and nausea). Some dispute these claims, however (see below).
  4. The HPV vaccine (Gardasil and Cervarix) has also been proven to prevent genital warts, which, while not life-threatening, are an uncomfortable and very common STD.

HPV Vaccine Cons

  1. While, as mentioned above, most side effects are not serious, CDC and FDA data shows that thousands of women have reported some very serious health consequences, from paralysis to autoimmune disorders to blindness; according to vaccine developer Diane M. Harper, MD, "more than 70 healthy young girls have died from a neurological reaction that occurred soon after getting Gardasil." (Interesting side note: The FDA is not required to respond to "any side effect that occurs in fewer than one in 10,000 people.")
  2. Because cervical cancer is slow-growing, to truly prevent tumors, a vaccine would need to be 100 percent effective for "at least 15 years." Since the vaccine hasn't even been around that long, scientists aren't yet sure whether or not it's something that will have to be re-administered in women later on in life.
  3. Gardasil contains aluminum, something some experts worry might later impact fertility. 

More from The Stir: New Law Making HPV Vaccine Mandatory for Kids Goes Too Far Even for Pro-Vaxxers

At this point, your head is likely swimming with all the conflicting information. How can any parent hope to make sense of it all? Whatever you decide, it's important to remember that the vaccine isn't a guarantee that your child won't get cancer. According to Harper:

No one who's had the vaccine should feel as if she's totally protected. Less common HPVs -- ones that are not targeted by the vaccine -- can also cause cancer. Being vaccinated just means you've taken more steps toward prevention.

 

 

Image via VCU CNS/Flickr 

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