Human papillomavirus is a very common, sexually transmitted infection, but it also has the potential to turn deadly. That's a fact that's becoming increasingly frustrating to those in the healthcare field, because for over a decade, there's been a safe, simple way to prevent it, but too many parents aren't taking the risk as seriously as they should. Now, a new study shows, once again, that putting off your daughter's HPV vaccine is a dangerous mistake, one that could even cost her life.
Ever since a certain con artist who shall remain nameless faked a study linking vaccines with autism, a segment of the population has grown wary of life-saving immunizations, rejecting one of the most valuable medical advances in history.
Those on the fringes, who take their conspiracy theories with a grain of salt, may choose to delay vaccinations rather than forgoing them entirely, out of a misplaced fear of "chemicals." But vaccine recommendation schedules aren't like the "serving suggestion" images on packages of prepared food; they were developed carefully by trained medical professionals, based on years of concrete evidence. They matter, is what I'm getting at. They really, really matter.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's so common, in fact, that "nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives." Many cases are asymptomatic, and resolve without intervention, but others can cause genital warts and even cancer. From 2013 to 2014, 42.5 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 59 had some type of persistent HPV infection. The introduction of the HPV vaccine had been extraordinarily helpful in curbing the virus; HPV prevalence were down about one-third among 20- to 24-year-olds in 2009 to 2012, compared to the rates during 2003 to 2006, before the vaccine existed. Among 14- to 19-year-olds, prevalence decreased by more than half. But 25- to 29-year-olds saw no significant decrease at all.
According to the National Survey of Family Growth, the average age at which U.S. women first have vaginal intercourse is just a hair over 17, which means that if your daughter has to wait until she's an adult to make her own decision about the HPV vaccine, statistically, it may be too late. Vaccination can still be effective at preventing disease in women who have already been exposed to HPV, but the age at which they first receive the vaccine, as well as how long they delay vaccination after first engaging in sexual activity, are important factors.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine HPV vaccination beginning at age 11 or 12, though it's approved for kids as young as 9. A second and third dose should be administered within the next 6 months in in order for the full protection to take effect. But as of 2017, 51 percent of kids ages 13 to 17 years still hadn't completed the full HPV vaccine series, and 34 percent hadn't even had their first dose. Those who didn't get vaccinated at the appropriate age are still encouraged to start the series, up to age 26. But every year they wait (assuming they're sexually active) increases their risk of contracting the virus.
A recent study published in the Lancet compared the HPV vaccination status, and the age of first inoculation, among women diagnosed with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or cancer. Of the 4,357 cases and 21,773 control subjects, the youngest age at the time of first vaccination was 14 years. Those who had received at least three doses, starting between ages 14 and 20, had the best protection (big surprise) while "no significant protection was found in women aged 21 years or older at time of first dose." Maybe some don't want to admit to themselves that their innocent child will likely have sex one day. Maybe they (incorrectly) think that getting their daughter the HPV vaccine is somehow "encouraging" her to have sex, and if they don't do it, she'll wait until she's older. Whatever their reasoning is, they need to know that refusing those shots will put her health in jeopardy, and that's something no parent should want.