Tween and teen parents hesitant about HPV vaccine

Tween and teen parents hesitant about HPV vaccine
by David Castillo Dominici for

Controversy has long surrounded the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccination, which the Centers for Disease Control recommends for tween girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years old. A recent study reveals that many parents have concerns about the safety of the vaccine. As a result, any tweens and teens are not receiving the HPV vaccination.  HPV is sexually transmitted and can cause cervical cancer.

Parents have safety concerns about the HPV vaccine

Data from the National Immunization Survey of Teens and published in the journal Pediatrics shows that only 32% of teens were up to date on their HPV vaccine. That's a sharp contrast to more than 81% of teens who were current on their Tdap vaccine booster (Tddap stands for tetanus toxoid, diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine).

Parents cited the safety concerns as their reason for not vaccinating far more frequently with the HPV vaccine than they did with other vaccines.

Parents worries persist despite experts saying that there are no serious side effects. Parents have said that they feel that the vaccine is too new, not sufficiently tested, and that they believe it is being promoted because of lobbyists, not medicine.

"It's really concerning that parents think the HPV vaccine isn't safe," said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The report suggested that social marketing campaigns may help increase the number of teens vaccinated.

Surprisingly, only 52 percent of doctors recommended the vaccine, which is higher than 47 percent in 2008, but still not an overwhelming majority.

Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University in Nashville said other reports have found hints of "provider hesitancy" that might still be playing a role. You think? If my doctor is hesitant to recommend it, that's going to give me pause. This article detailed study in Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology exploring why some doctors are reluctant to recommend the vaccine to patients, with reasons ranging from moral reasons to cost. Many doctors said safety and efficacy concerns would likely diminish over time.

I asked my child's doctor about it at her 10 year-old well visit, and he was in no hurry to vaccinate my child against HPV and not eager to discuss it. We were both pretty happy to put off that talk. If the recommendation is 11-12 years old, my plan is to deal with it when my tween is 12. I am, however, curious to hear our doctor's thoughts on the matter.

Other reasons parents do not have their child received the HPV vaccine include:

  • believing that it is not necessary because their child is not sexually active;
  • not wanting to discuss sexually transmitted diseases (STD) with their child as a reason for the vaccine (It is a whole a lot easier to explain whooping cough than an STD, isn't it?);
  • opposing vaccines generally; or
  • the inconvenience of needing to receive three doses of the vaccine within six months.

The vaccine and what it prevents

There are two FDA-approved vaccines on the market.  Merck's Gardasil protects against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18, and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix protects against strains 16 and 18. Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, with strains 16 and 18 responsible for about 70 percent of all cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Children as young as 9 receive the HPV vaccine. You can find the information sheets, which include side effects, published  by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Gardasil and Cervarix here. Check out your state’s legislation on the issue here.

Some facts about HPV and cervical cancer:

  • HPV infects approximately 20 million people in the United States with 6.2 million new cases each year;
  • There is no treatment for HPV, only treatment for related health problems;
  • Cervical cancer is the second leading cancer killer of women worldwide;
  • In the United States, nearly 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 3,700 women die.

While the recommendation is for both genders to receive the vaccine, I've also never heard of anyone who had their son vaccinated. If you have, please share in the comments, and please also share your thoughts on the HPV vaccine.

You may also like: Has your tween gotten a whooping cough booster shot?
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