The HPV Vaccine

The story behind the stigma that has prevented acceptance of the HPV vaccine.

Kathleen Esfahany, Staff Writer

Human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, is the the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. After contracting HPV, people develop painful, itchy genital warts. Everyone is susceptible to the virus, which can be spread through any kind of sexual contact.

In addition to genital warts, HPV is the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer, 95% of anal cancer and 70% of oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. While there are many strains of the virus, one in particular–HPV type 16–is responsible for most of the cancers. HPV type 18 is also a high-risk strain.

The HPV vaccine has been available for ten years. The FDA approved the first vaccine capable of preventing HPV type 16 in 2006. Today, there are two HPV vaccines available: Ceravix, which protects against HPV Types 16 and 18, and Gardasil, which also protects against HPV Types 16 and 18 as well as Types 6 and 11. The vaccine is completed in a series of three shots, spaced out over eight months.

Despite the vaccine’s potential to virtually eradicate cervical cancer and greatly reduce the occurrences of several other cancers, the number of teens getting the vaccine is low. The recommended age for both boys and girls to get the vaccine is 11-12.

The HPV vaccine is stigmatized because of a misconception that the vaccine increases sexual promiscuity. Parents are weary of the vaccine because they think that the increased protection against HPV will encourage their children to be more sexually active. In reality, this isn’t the case. The number of sexually active teenage girls is actually more than 6% lower than it was in 1995, according to the CDC. A study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research demonstrated that there is no association between the HPV vaccine and sexual activity.

Vaccines have allowed developed countries to eliminate fatal diseases from the general population. While recently some parents have created the Anti-Vaccine movement, it is scientifically proven that vaccines are integral to the continued prevention of countless fatal diseases. The HPV is just one more step to a disease-free future.