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HPV Vaccines Work, So Why Are So Many Going Without Them?

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A single dose of the HPV vaccines cut risks of infection by 82 percent. Photo credit: ZaldyImg, Flickr

If there was a way to prevent cancer with a vaccine, would you get vaccinated? In the case of the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (commonly known as HPV), it appears that not everyone would — or at least, wouldn’t let their kids get it. The vaccines have been a hot topic in the news this summer, as nearly two-thirds of teenage girls skipped the vaccinations, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommended three-dose coverage, which is recommended, actually declined from 2011 to 2012.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, according to the CDC. While in most cases the virus goes away and doesn’t cause any health problems, HPV viruses can cause various types of cancer, most commonly cervical cancer.

But the vaccines appear to be working, as the HPV infection rate among girls between the ages of 14 and 19 dropped by 56 percent with the arrival of the vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil. While the vaccine is most effective with three doses, even a single dose of the vaccine cut the risk of HPV by 82 percent. With that kind of effectiveness, why aren’t the vaccination rates higher? One study suggests that parents aren’t getting their kids vaccinated because of safety concerns — safety concerns not associated with other common vaccines like Tdap or a vaccine against bacterial meningitis.

If you’re concerned about the risks of HPV, or the vaccines that prevent infection, here are a few things you should know.

HPV Vaccines: 5 Things You Should Know

1. There are two types of HPV vaccines: Cervarix and Gardasil. Gardasil is available for both girls and boys, and protects males against most genital warts and some cancers.

2. HPV vaccines are recommended for 11- or 12-year-old boys and girls, but males and females can be vaccinated through age 26. Boys and girls at ages 11 or 12 are most likely to have the best protection provided by HPV vaccines, and their immune response to vaccine is better than older women and men, the CDC says.

3. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months; it is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. While a single dose of the vaccine was found to cut the risk of HPV infection by 82 percent, clinical trials suggest the protection rises to 96 percent with all three doses.

4. Some parents feel that the vaccine isn’t necessary because their kids aren’t sexually active, but in order for the vaccine to be effective, it must be given before an infection is acquired.

5.  Regardless of your vaccination status, it’s important for women to have regular Pap tests to find and treat pre-cancers before they become invasive cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Whether a now-discredited study that sparked fear about the dangers of immunizations has anything to do with the hesitation to get the HPV vaccine is anyone’s guess, but it appears that the HPV vaccines are doing their intended job in those who are getting them. Will you get your kids or yourself vaccinated against HPV?

Read more of Erin’s writing at Fit Bottomed Girls and Fit Bottomed Mamas.
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