By Maria Paez
At the beginning of the week I read an article in the New York Time titled HPV Sharply Reduced in Teenage Girls Following Vaccine, Study Says, and was pleasantly surprised. But the statistics lingered in my mind. Yes it was great! But I am sure that lower prevalence rates would be easily attainable if the vaccine achieved higher immunization rates or was mandatory. It is incredible that scientists have gotten so far in cancer research and, although still uncertain, the so desired “cure” might not be impossible.
I find it rather contradictory that we, Americans, hope for a cure for cancer yet we fail to embrace a vaccine that can prevent multiple forms of cancer like cervical.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC the most common in the United States” The HPV virus is normally asymptomatic and it often goes away on its own, but it can cause cancer of the vagina, penis, anus, vulva, tongue, and tonsils, in addition to genital warts. A person may begin to experience symptoms caused my HPV years after being infected. This, along with the fact that there is not a test that can tell whether a person is HPV positive or not, makes it very hard to trace down.
What is the disease burden?
The CDC estimates
79 million Americans living with HPV
14 million become infected,
4 thousand women will die of cervical cancer each year
Initially the vaccine was recommended for girls between the ages of 11-12 as a three dose immunization. Women up to the age of 22 can also receive the vaccine if they have not been vaccinated yet, though the results are expected to be lower. In 2011, it was also recommended for boys.
What has the vaccine accomplished since 2006?
A study published in Pediatrics compared the HPV prevalence among women ages 14-19 in 2003 (prior to the vaccine) and in 2012. It found that there was a 64% decrease in 4 types of HPV among women ages 14 to 19, and 24% decrease among women 20 to 24 years of age[i]. For detailed information about the study and its results you can visit the pediatrics.org website here.
The HPV vaccine was very controversial, as most vaccines normally are in the United States. Besides the blatant disregard of the vaccine’s health benefits and the advantage created through herd immunity, HPV vaccine brought along a new layer of controversy: a sexually transmitted virus.
In the United States many parents feared that the vaccine would promote promiscuity among their 11- year olds. Though a somewhat understandable fear, teenagers normally begin sexual activity around the age of 15, according to multiple CDC sample data. And protecting against an STD is not a justification or incentive for promiscuity but rather a step in the initiation of safe sex practices. Despite this, parents could easily avoid talking about STI and sex all-together as an explanation for the vaccine, it is very unlikely that they talk about the etiology of other infectious disease which they willingly vaccinate their children against.
The article expressed that although the prevalence of HPV had decreased dramatically, immunization rate is only around 40% for girls and 20% for boys. Countries that have made the vaccine mandatory, have seen drastically better results. Rwanda, which also made the vaccine mandatory, achieved 93% immunization rate. Would this be a perk of underdevelopment or is it time to admit the United State is actually lacking as a public health leader?
Reading about the huge success the HPV vaccination has had made me realize that the American public is often caught up in controversy, conventional beliefs and overly political debates about issues that are not really politics. When there is the possibility of preventing a child from contracting a disease that leads to several forms of cancer, how is it sensible to oppose it? Isn’t “curing cancer” society’s dream?
It is hard to understand how we can take partial stands in this issue instead of embracing it.
Also, it is time to talk about sex! Previously I commented that a sex talk is not tied with the HPV vaccine, and it isn’t. However, parents should use this to initiate a conversation with a health focus. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent cervical cancer, but HPV is an STI and like many others it should be talked about. Perhaps 100 or 50 years ago it was not up to social standards to talk about sex with an 11-year old, but its 2016! It is time to take a truly progressive stand, talk to teenagers about the risks associated with sex and provide them with the resources necessary to make right choices. This would lead to safer sexual practices and inevitably to lower incidence of sexually transmitted infections like HPV.
 Center for Disease Control
 Hoffman, New York Times
 Hoffman, New York Times
“Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Hoffman, Jan. “HPV Sharply Reduced in Teenage Girls Following Vaccine, Study Says.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
“Prevalence of HPV After Introduction of the Vaccination Program in the United States.” Prevalence of HPV After Introduction of the Vaccination Program in the United States. Pediatrics, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Tami, Thomas L. “The New Human Papillomavirus (HPV) for Pediatric and Adolescent Health.” Medscape, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.