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Why Are More Parents Opting Not to Get Their Kids Vaccinated Against HPV?

Statistically, two of these kids won't receive the recommended HPV vaccine.

It’s not just a girl thing: the CDC and the AAP recommend that both boys and girls be vaccinated against HPV at age 11 to 12.

According to a new study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and published in the journal Pediatrics, the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids against the human papillomavirus (HPV) has increased. The latest data shows that 43 percent of parents don’t intend to have their daughters vaccinated, despite simultaneous reports that health care professionals are increasingly recommending the vaccine.

The reasons most commonly cited for not vaccinating included:

  • Not recommended by physician
  • Not needed or not necessary
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Not appropriate age
  • Safety concerns/side effects
  • Not sexually active

These findings are troubling to physicians at the Mayo Clinic. “The results of this study suggest physician recommendation may not be sufficient to increase uptake of [the vaccine],” study authors wrote. “Our findings across 3 years show that, even as clinicians are increasingly recommending the human papillomavirus vaccine, increasing numbers of parents (greater than 40 percent in 2010) do not intend to vaccinate their adolescent female children with this vaccine.”

Let’s take a look at some of the parent concerns, and what medical experts say.

Not recommended by physician. This is a pretty surprising reason, considering that the Mayo Clinic simultaneously found that more physicians are recommending the vaccine. It’s worth noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends  that both males and females should receive the HPV vaccine, ideally at age 11 to 12.

Lack of knowledge. I’m not sure if this means parents don’t know about the vaccine, they don’t understand how it works, or they don’t understand what HPV is.

  • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to the CDC. It’s so common, that almost every single sexually active person will have it at some point in their lifetime, without even knowing–even people who only ever have one partner.
  • HPV is passed from one person to another through genital contact, including intercourse but also through oral sex and just genital-to-genital contact. Condoms help prevent it, but because it’s passed skin-to-skin, any areas that aren’t covered by the condom are still at risk.
  • In most cases, HPV goes away before causing any serious health problems, and before a person even knows he or she has it. However, it can also cause very serious health problems, including genital warts and cervical cancer.  More rarely, it can cause other types of cancer, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus (men and women), and throat. HPV causes an estimated 21,000 cancers in the US each year that are potentially preventable by vaccinating.

Not needed, not necessary, or not sexually active. Apparently these mean that parents think their daughter is not going to be sexually active, is waiting for marriage, or that they’re otherwise magically not at risk for HPV, ever. That’s a pretty big assumption, considering that the latest research shows that 47 percent of high school students have had sex, and nearly 40 percent of sexually active teens report not using condoms. Plus, even if your child does wait for marriage, you’re kind of assuming that his or her betrothed does too, and that no one ever cheats on your kid, ever. There’s also the stark reality that there are more than 200,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. each year, and 44 percent of victims are under age 18.

Not appropriate age. Both the CDC and the AAP recommend that boys and girls should be vaccinated against HPV at age 11 to 12 for the greatest effectiveness. It’s been found that at this age, a better immunity is developed than in older adults. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months, and it’s important to get all three doses for the best protection. Although the effectiveness is best at ages 11 to 12, the vaccine can be given to girls as young as age nine, boys starting at age 11, and adult men and women up to age 26.

Safety and side effect concerns. “HPV vaccines are safe and effective, and can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to disease and cancer,” says the CDC. Independent consumer watchdog Consumer Reports says that “Gardasil was highly effective in preventing precancerous cell changes that often develop into cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva, and in preventing genital warts.” In looking at data from over 23 million Gardasil doses distributed between 2006 and 2008, the most common side effects recorded by the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), managed by the FDA and CDC, were pain and redness at the injection site, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and fainting. More serious issues included 32 deaths, which were found to be linked to other factors not related to the vaccine. There are also some questions about a possible increased chance of Guillain-Barre Syndrome and blood clots, but it’s not clear if those are related to the vaccine or to other risk factors.

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