HPV vaccines and teen sexuality

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

Some brief thoughts on an issue I will be covering more intensively during the next few weeks. This week the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that boys between the ages 9 to 26 be vaccinated against the HPV virus. This created a storm of controversy among some parents and politicians who are concerned that this vaccine can increase sexual activity among teens.

HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease and is responsible for a significant number of cancers in women and men. HPV however, is highly preventable if individuals are vaccinated before they become sexually active. Thus, CDC believes that comprehensive vaccination against HPV before teens become sexually active can drastically reduce cancer rates and thus save thousands of lives.

Yet in the USA less than 1/3 of teen girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV, which is significantly below the level necessary to make a real impact on HPV rates. This number is worth repeating: less than 1/3 of girls in the USA are vaccinated against a highly preventable virus that is responsible for the death of thousands of women and men each year.

Why are these vaccination rates so low?

A number of studies have identified the factors that keep parents from vaccinating their kids.

In sum, the most common factors are:

1. The concern that vaccination could promote adolescent sexual activity.
2. The belief that vaccinations are too costly.
3. The belief that their teens are not at risk because they are not sexually active and thus should not get vaccinated.
4. The concern that vaccines are too risky.

Next week I will address these four issues and will present a number of research findings regarding these concerns. But in sum, there is no evidence supporting these concerns and the potential risks are not enough to outweigh the potentially life-saving benefits of this vaccine. Nestor.

References:

Brewer, N. T., Fazekas, K. I. (2007). Predictors of HPV vaccine acceptability: a theory-informed, systematic review. Preventive Medicine, 45(2-3), 107–114.
Davis, K., Dickman, E. D., Ferris, D., Dias, J. K. (2004). Human papillomavirus vaccine acceptability among parents of 10-to 15-year-old adolescents. Journal of lower genital tract disease, 8(3), 188.
Fazekas, K. I., Brewer, N. T., Smith, J. S. (2008). HPV vaccine acceptability in a rural Southern area. Journal of Women’s Health, 17(4), 539–548.
Zimet, G. D., Liddon, N., Rosenthal, S. L., Lazcano-Ponce, E., Allen, B. (2006). Psychosocial aspects of vaccine acceptability. Vaccine, 24, S201–S209.
Zimet, G. D., Mays, R. M., Winston, Y., Kee, R., Dickes, J., Su, L. (2000). Acceptability of human papillomavirus immunization. Journal of Women’s Health Gender-Based Medicine, 9(1), 47–50.