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Debunking Myths about the HPV Vaccine

hpv-vaccine-imageA special thank you to Dr. Sara Levine and Dr. Fred Bomback for contributing to the article.

Most of us have raised money or contributed to friends and family running, walking or biking for cancer research. It's hard to find someone who hasn't been affected by cancer, whether it's themself or a family member. Vaccines and cures are priorities for anyone who has been affected by cancer.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in women, penile cancer in men, or cancers of the anus and oropharyngeal cancers in both women and men. Thanks to years of research and successful development and distribution, a vaccine is available to prevent a person from getting certain HPV-induced cancers rather than treat them once they manifest. Cancer treatments are often long, expensive and have significant side effects. Each year there are 17,500 women and 9,300 men affected by HPV-related cancers. So why isn't everyone getting vaccinated?

Why not? "The short answer is that people are misinformed or fear the purported side effects," said Sara Levine, a pediatrician who is fellowship-trained and board certified in adolescent medicine. "I highly recommend the HPV vaccine. My son received it. My daughter will start the series at her 12-year-old checkup."

Though I originally intended to provide data on both sides of the vaccine debate, I was unable to find ANY evidence (data driven) against he HPV vaccine. After doing my research I found that pyhsicians' guidelines and solid data all favor the administration of the vaccine.The argument that big pharma is making money off the vaccine isn't data driven since all cancer treatments (and treatments for every other disease) are brought to market by pharmaceutical companies. "For some reason, people use that argument for vaccines but they forget that argument when going for treatment after presenting with a disease or illness. Isn't prevention better and more cost effective?" said one local resident.

What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that affects nearly 80 million people (or one in four) in the United States. Although many people will never have symptoms, the virus is easily transmitted and can manifest as genital warts or various cancers of the throat and tongue and urogenital tracts.

Who should get the vaccine?
According to Dr. Fred Bomback, a pediatrician affiliated with WestMed Medical Group, the vaccine is recommended for "...ALL boys and girls between 11 and 12 years of age. They can get it later but the advantage to getting it earlier is that the antibody levels are higher when you get it earlier." He adds that "...you want them to have antibodies before they're sexually active and exposed to HPV." Dr. Bomback follows the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines. "It is critical for ALL boys and girls to be vaccinated," Dr. Bomback says. Furthermore, waiting may mean your child needs an extra dose of the vaccine (or three doses instead of two). Kids between the ages of 11 and 12 should get two shots 6-12 months apart. (A third dose is still recommended for some younger kids, particularly those with certain immune-compromising conditions including autoimmune disease.)The vaccine is approved for females and males, ages 9 to 26. Again, it is most effective when given well before sexual activity begins.

The only contraindication for this vaccine is for people who experienced an immediate allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine, or have a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine or to yeast.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?
As with any vaccine, there may be side effects. Most are mild and resolve without treatment. Common side effects include local soreness, redness, mild swelling, or headache. There have been documented cases of patients fainting after receiving the HPV vaccine, so Dr. Bomback, for example, instructs his office staff to make sure patients sit for a few minutes after receiving the vaccine. According to the CDC and many peer-reviewed articles, the data supports a highly favorable safety profile for the vaccine. The CDC and the FDA continue to monitor the vaccine and fine it to be safe. When reading about the vaccine online, many physicians caution parents not to read "junk science" about the vaccine, or information dispersed online without real data to support it. Dr. Mercola, for example, is in favor of good hygiene, reducing sugar intake and vitamin D supplements in place of the HPV vaccine claiming that this will reduce the prevalence of HPV-related cancers as much as the vaccine. But keep in mind that Dr. Mercola is making a huge profit off of his naturopathic remedies (just as Merck is making money selling the HPV vaccine). In 2010, Mercola's website sales alone totaled $7MM.

My 11 year-old is not sexually active. Why should he (or she) get it?
As mentioned above, the vaccine creates antibodies that work to immunize a person against the HPV virus. Immune response is better in preteens so early vaccination can mean better protection for your child. Boys should get vaccinated as well as they are also at risk for HPV-related cancers and vaccinating boys helps reduce the spread and the overall incidence of HPV. The vaccine initially was thought to only prevent certain types of cervical cancer but now there is data to show it prevents many other types of head and neck and urogenital cancers. The vaccine also only helps prevent cancer if a person has not been exposed to HPV.

"I've had parents who say they've read that the vaccine can lead to promiscuity but I do not feel that this concern is justified," says Dr. Bomback. He disagrees with the socially conservative, right wing American College of Pediatricians who has a strong online presence and aims to convince parents that the vaccine will lead to promiscuity. This argument is easily debunked; the vaccine doesn't protect against other sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy or HIV/AIDS- all potential concerns for teens thinking of becoming sexually active.

What are people in Scarsdale saying about the vaccine?

Kathie Gorelick: I am someone who wishes the HPV vaccine was around when we were young. I had to receive a hysterectomy at the age of 30 over something that now can be prevented. For the health of your child PLEASE don't take a chance, get the vaccine.‬‬‬

Lori Weiser: Saves lives. It's a no brainer. Can't argue with science.

Alison Singer: The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. Think about that; it prevents cancer. Of course everyone should have it.‬‬‬

Kimberly Koch: I know a teen girl who got very sick from it. No way!

Eileen Theresa: My daughter's friend started getting seizures after hers and can't even drive.‬‬‬ It was reported - there's a group against Guardasil - it was related to vaccine.

Rena Schwartzbaum: One person's experience does not imply causality. I hate hearing that anyone has gotten ill after a vaccine, but statistically, what is the greater good? Complications are awful, but so are cervical and penile cancer.‬‬‬

Hilary Plattus: My teen daughter was vaccinated. If we have something that can prevent cancer, why not use it! I will also have my boys vaccinated when the time comes. Apparently the vaccine also is effective on males (I didn't know that before I recently saw ads on TV about it and asked my kids' pediatrician)‬‬‬.

Joanne Sciortino: My daughter just finished the third shot of the plan. Thankfully she had no ill effects at all. While she hates shots she completely understood, as do I, that if a vaccination can prevent a type of cancer, you go for it.

Timothy Foley: My children are not yet of the appropriate age, but fully planning to get my daughter and my son vaccinated when the time is right. Most folks who I've worked with in medicine and public health say it's a no-brainer. We're so rightly focused on a cure for cancer but an even better option is preventing a type of cancer in the first place.

Katherine Miao: Cervical and penile cancer are terrible diseases. An anti-cancer vaccine is a wonderful thing!

Isabel la Koko: I have feeling against but after years battling and researching the pros and cons, I did it against my will. The tipping point (for me) was that I was afraid of carrying the responsibility of the IF...question in the future...my husband was for the vaccine and I decided to let it go. But I was not proud that I gave in. My kids got it quite late, at 17 and 15, so there were years of debate at our house.

Jennifer Meyers: My son and two daughters were vaccinated years ago. I am a nurse and my husband a physician. 100% in favor.

Jennifer Gross: All three of my daughters have been vaccinated- they each got their first shot at age 11 because our pediatrician told us it is most effective when given at an early age. None of them had adverse reactions to the vaccine except for a sore arm.

Melissa Goldberg: Fact is, HPV is a sexually transmitted disease transmitted by vaginal, anal and oral sex. You can pass it on even with no signs or symptoms. It can go away on its own or it can cause genital warts and cancer. HPV is linked to cancers; not only cervical but penile, anal, and vulva cancer. It can also cause throat and tongue cancer (however vaccine not yet proven to protect against head and neck cancer but it may protect as well). It's been proven to work and protect. Trying to understand the cons?

Lisa Copeland: Opposition to the HPV vaccine feels like part of Americans' puritanical attitudes towards sexuality. How else to explain people hesitating to vaccinate children against cancer? If there were vaccines for breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer or prostate cancer, wouldn't we all be lining up to get them?

Christina Masters: My son is 13 and had the series of vaccines 2 years ago. HPV is a common virus which CAUSES cervical cancer (and other cancers). By NOT vaccinating him, he would be at risk for contracting and spreading this virus. By vaccinating him, there are always risks associated (but for this one, we are willing to take), but the reward is great. I feel strongly about cancer prevention and public health.

Dr. Bomback always tells parents, "I've had my own grandchildren get the vaccine when they are old enough and I feel very strongly about its favorable risk-benefit profile. There is not one physician I know in infectious disease medicine or adolescent medicine that doesn't recommend the vaccine to all patients."

See these additional resources:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hpv.html
https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Human-Papillomavirus-Vaccination
http://www.unity4teenvax.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Unity-Fact-Sheet-Protect-Connect.pdf
https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/AAPFact%20Sheet_HPV%20vaccine.PDF

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