Since US public health officials began recommending in 2006 that young women be routinely vaccinated against HPV, many parents have hesitated over fears that doing so might give their children license to have sex. Research published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics and reported in the New York Times of October 15 may help ease those fears.
Using a sample of nearly 1,400 girls, the researchers found no evidence that those who were vaccinated beginning around age 11 went on to engage in more sexual activity than girls who were not vaccinated.
“We’re hopeful that once physicians see this, it will give them evidence that they can give to parents,” said Robert A. Bednarczyk, the lead author of the report and a clinical investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Southeast, in Atlanta. “Hopefully when parents see this, it’ll be reassuring to them and we can start to overcome this barrier.”
HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States, can cause cancers of the cervix, anus and parts of the throat. Federal health officials began recommending in 2006 that girls be vaccinated as early as age 11 and last year made a similar recommendation for preadolescent boys. The idea is to immunize boys and girls before they become sexually active to maximize the vaccine’s protective effects.
Data from the CDC showed that in 2011 nearly a third of children 14 to 19 years old are already infected with HPV. But despite the federal recommendations, vaccination rates around the country remain low, in part because of concerns about side effects as well as fears the vaccine could make adolescents less wary of casual sex. A study by Basu et al from Yale on parental attitudes toward the vaccine found that concern about promiscuity was the single biggest factor in the decision not to vaccinate.