It’s a tough decision for parents to make. To vaccinate your child against HPV or not?
Are there risks? Does it work?
I’ve been doing a little research on this still-evolving subject. It’s important to note that medical research is always changing, so what is true today may not be as true tomorrow. Although medical studies look at scientific facts, there are so many things that can affect studies. What may seem quite true one year may seem outdated the next! (Google “phrenology” and see what I mean.)
I encourage you to do your own research on any medical decision you make. This may include talking to your medical professional, like your doctor or nurse practitioner, who likely reads current studies and information. They also know your unique medical history, too.
Then, if you’re like many people (and me), you’re apt to hit the internet.
The web has great resources from a variety of perspectives. This is the best part about the internet—but also the worst, as it means sifting through conflicting research.
To vaccinate or not?
For those parents who are thinking about whether they should vaccinate their children for HPV, or the human papillomavirus, here are some tips on finding good research on the internet (followed by some information on HPV and its vaccines).
When you’re online looking at websites, find out who publishes the site. Doctors? Vaccine makers? Governments?
Take a moment to reflect on what biases the site might have. Obviously, a vaccine maker is going to have very different information from a site published by doctors. It’s not in a vaccine maker’s interest to highlight side effects, although they may publish them somewhere in fine print.
Look for references. If you endured bibliographies in school, you know all about citations and references. They are simply ways to tell you where information came from. A strong site should tell you where the authors got their numbers and research.
Once you discover the type of research that is involved, ask yourself if it matters. Does a study that looks at 50 people over two weeks matter? Or does a long term study that follows all of the people in Nova Scotia have more credibility? What study would you believe? How much weight would you give it?
Finally, here is some information (current as of September 2014) that relates to getting HPV vaccines for your children. I’ve linked to the sites where I found the information, so you can read more if you’re interested.
- HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—U.S. Government
- About 75% of sexually active people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. Canadian Cancer Society
- Cervical cancers are almost always caused by certain HPV strains. National Cancer Institute—United States
- There are over 100 types of HPV, but only two strains of the virus cause most genital warts and another two that cause most cervical cancers. Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada
- One vaccine helps to prevent the two types of HPV that often cause cervical cancer (Cervarix); the other protects against four strains, including the same two protected by Cervarix and two that cause most genital warts (Gardasil). Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada
- The vaccine should be received prior to sexual activity (as young as 9), but can be given to people even if they have had sex or HPV. Public Health Agency of Canada
- Condoms don’t prevent all HPV infections, as it can be passed by skin-to-skin or mouth-to-skin contact with genital areas. Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada
- HPV may be caused by oral sex or deep kissing*. Harvard University
- Most varieties of HPV go away on their own in a few years, with only a few causing cancer at some point. McGill University
- The vaccines do not contain mercury or thimerosal, preservatives or antibiotics. They will not cause HPV. Public Health Agency of Canada—Government
- Side effects include soreness at the needle wound, with more serious ones including fainting, blood clots, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Fainting can be minimized by sitting after receiving the injection. National Cancer Institute—United States
- Generally, side effects were no worse than other vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Journal of the American Medical Association.
Hope these links help!
And remember, if you do use a source like Wikipedia (which can be changed by anyone), check their links and see if they go to legitimate webpages. It can be a great way to find some interesting sites, for better or worse.
If you have any questions about this or other sexual health topics, contact us or your medical professional.
* It was difficult to find out 100% whether kissing can cause HPV infection or not. There is simply not enough information available. However, HPV can cause some oral cancers. HPV can also be transmitted through oral sex. It may be like HIV/AIDS, in which the virus is not passed through saliva or kissing. Here is a new study that does not find a link with kissing. Follow the news as more research is released on HPV and other STIs.