One of the most preposterous arguments raised by religious and social conservatives against administering a vaccine to girls to protect them from human papillomavirus, or HPV, has been that it might encourage them to become promiscuous. That notion has now been thoroughly repudiated by a study published on Monday in Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Although most women infected with HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus, experience no symptoms, persistent infections with some strains of the virus can cause cervical and other types of cancer, as well as genital warts. In 2006, the government’s top committee of experts on immunization practices recommended that all girls ages 11 or 12, and even some as young as 9, receive the vaccine so that they could develop immunity before they became sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Family Physicians have all endorsed the recommendations and attest to the vaccine’s safety.
In previous surveys, teenage girls have said they would not modify their sexual behavior after getting the HPV vaccine, but those were based on self-reporting which is not considered highly reliable. The new study, conducted by researchers from Kaiser Permanente and Emory University, analyzed medical data collected by the Kaiser Permanente managed care plan in metropolitan Atlanta. It looked at 1,400 girls who were 11 or 12 in 2006, roughly a third of whom had received the HPV vaccine, and followed them for up to three years.
Over all, there was no difference between girls who had received the vaccine and those who had not in such indicators of sexual activity as pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and counseling on how to use contraceptives. As one expert said, parents should think of the vaccine as they would a bicycle helmet; it is protection, not an invitation to risky behavior.
HPV vaccine won’t make girls promiscuous, study finds
Shots that protect against cervical cancer do not make girls promiscuous, according to the first study to compare medical records for vaccinated and unvaccinated girls.
The researchers didn’t ask girls about having sex, but instead looked at “markers” of sexual activity after vaccination against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV. Specifically, they examined up to three years of records on whether girls had sought birth control advice; tests for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy; or had become pregnant.
Very few of the girls who got the shots at age 11 or 12 had done any of those over the next three years, or by the time they were 14 or 15. Moreover, the study found no difference in rates of those markers compared with unvaccinated girls.
The study involved nearly 1,400 girls enrolled in a Kaiser Permanente health plan in Atlanta. Results were published online Monday in Pediatrics.
Whether vaccination has any influence on similar markers of sexual activity in older teens wasn’t examined in this study, but other research has suggested it doesn’t.
The study is the first to use medical outcomes data to examine consequences of HPV vaccination and the results are “comforting and reassuring,” said lead author Robert Bednarczyk, a researcher at Kaiser and Emory University. Both institutions paid for the study.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and also has been linked with anal and oral cancers in women and men.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend HPV shots for girls and boys at age 11 or 12, before they have ever had sex. Three doses are generally recommended over six months.
Some parents have raised concerns that the shots “are a license to have sex,” but the study bolsters evidence against that concern, said Dr. Elizabeth Alderman, an adolescent medicine specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. She was not involved in the study.
The New York Times