A new study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine offers the most definitive evidence to date that the human papilloma-virus (HPV) vaccine does not lead to increased sex among teens.
The HPV vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus that is responsible for cervical, anal, and some oral cancers, but some parents are saying no to the vaccine for fear it will encourage sexual activity.
As a result, the inoculation rate for the vaccine, which has been on the market since 2006, is "unacceptably low," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), with the assumption that parents feel it will encourage their children to have sex, and that some doctors may not be recommending it during well-visits.
As part of their study, researchers found that women who had the HPV vaccine had a higher rate of STDs both before and after being vaccinated which, according to the study authors, could mean that those who chose to get a vaccine may had already been sexually active. When comparing those both vaccinated and unvaccinated, researchers found the same rate of overall infection, inferring that the vaccine is not responsible for encouraging sexual behavior.
"Given low rates of HPV vaccination among adolescent females in the United States, our findings should be reassuring to physicians, parents and policy makers that HPV vaccination is unlikely to promote unsafe sexual activity," said the study authors.
"Cervical cancer is the only cancer that we actually have a vaccine to prevent. One of the best ways to keep your child healthy is to consider HPV vaccination as important as the other childhood immunizations," said Dr. Katharine O. White, chief, General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center.
When to vaccinate
The CDC recommends that preteens, such as those age 11 or 12, get one dose each of Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), meningococcal, and HPV vaccine during a single well-visit at their pediatrician’s office.
"Research has consistently shown that receiving the HPV vaccine does not make girls or boys suddenly more interested in sex. In fact, it's best to administer the vaccination series while they still consider the opposite sex to be 'yucky.' This way, adolescents will be fully-vaccinated before they begin to be sexually active, and before they are exposed to any HPV. This is the way that the vaccine works best," Dr. White said.