Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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Debunking misperceptions of the HPV vaccine

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The first vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes cervical cancer, came out almost a decade ago.

However, only 57% of adolescent girls and 35% of adolescent boys currently get the three-dose HPV vaccine series. Why? Parents fear that giving their pre-teens the vaccine will encourage them to be sexually promiscuous, and they think the recommended age for getting the vaccine—11 to 12 years old—is just too young.

A recent JAMA Internal Medicine commentary by Robert A. Bednarczyk, an epidemiologist in global health, urged physicians to educate parents and adolescents about the misperceptions and benefits of HPV vaccination. Studies have shown that getting the vaccine does not, in fact, lead to an increase in sexual activity. And the time frame is justified. The antibody response in younger adolescents is greater than it is in older adolescents and young adults. The timing also coincides with the recommended schedule for Tdap and MCV4 vaccines, providing a convenient opportunity to begin HPV vaccination.

Finally, studies have shown that 27% of U.S. adolescents have had sexual intercourse by 15-17 years of age, and 63% of those 18-19 have had intercourse.

Says Bednarczyk, "Just as we do not wait until we have been in the sun for two hours to apply sunscreen, we should not wait until after an individual is sexually active to attempt to prevent HPV infection."

Related Resources:

"Increase in HPV vaccination requires addressing physician, parent concerns" (2/12/2015)

"Asking questions about HPV and HPV vaccine" (2/18/2013)

"Study: HPV vaccine doesn't increase sexual activity in girls" (10/16/2012)

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