The human papillomavirus — or HPV — is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting 79 million current infections and 14 million new infections occurring each year. Unfortunately, I account for one of those numbers.
According to a 2014 CDC study, only 37.6 percent of teenage girls receive all three doses of Gardasil, the controversial vaccine that prevents the spread of HPV. Now, a new study conducted by the CDC says preteens may not need as many rounds of the vaccine as previously thought: They’ve updated their guidelines to recommend children ages 11-12 only receive two rounds of the vaccine, as opposed to the previously recommended three.
Every day, I live with the knowledge that I could someday develop cervical cancer, and I could have prevented this risk by accepting a recommended vaccine that I was too conservative to take. The CDC hopes that the new recommendation of fewer shots will offer more incentive for parents to take the steps to prevent HPV cancers in their children, and we can only hope they are right.
But why are vaccination rates really so low?
Public health officials are adamant that increased HPV vaccination rates will drastically reduce rates of infection — and ultimately, the occurrence of life-threatening cancers. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the 2014 CDC data, vaccination rates are abysmally low. This means that an entire generation of teens and young adults are still at risk for the spread of this deadly virus. But why? Why aren’t parents insisting that their teenagers get the Gardasil vaccination?
Frankly, I cringe when I hear parents opining about why they resist the facts about HPV and its prevention through Gardasil. Most of their reasoning is directly related to antiquated beliefs about human sexuality, particularly the sexuality of teenage girls and young women. Parents seem to think that the Gardasil vaccine will encourage teen sex and will reduce the consequences of having numerous sexual partners — thus encouraging young people to hop into bed for an orgy of pleasure without risk.
Inaccurate beliefs about HPV are dangerous
I’m here to tell you that these beliefs are completely and totally bunk. First of all, a study conducted by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital found that Gardasil is not linked to risky sexual behavior or an early initiation to sex. So there’s that. But on a more personal level, I wish that I had ignored conservative fear-mongers and accepted the vaccine for myself before it was too late.
I was one of those young women who held onto my virginity far longer than my peers. I wanted to wait until I met my husband. So I did, and I contracted HPV from him since he didn’t know he was a carrier. I had the opportunity to take the Gardasil vaccine, but I resisted because I thought I was safe due to my conservative views on sex. I wish that an older and wiser adult had insisted I get the vaccine for my own protection, because one never knows what the future holds.
Public health recommendations to prevent HPV
According to the latest guidelines released by the CDC in Oct. 2016, two doses of HPV vaccine given at least six months apart to boys and girls at ages 11 and 12 years will provide safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against HPV cancers. Adolescents ages 13-14 are also able to receive HPV vaccination on the new two dose schedule. Children aged 9 through 14 who previously received two doses less than five months apart still need the previously recommended three doses.
Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26 years, will continue to need three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infection.
“Safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against HPV cancers with two visits instead of three means more Americans will be protected from cancer,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H . “This recommendation will make it simpler for parents to get their children protected in time.”
Parents, please vaccinate your teens. I’m living proof that you can’t afford to ignore HPV, regardless of your opinions and fears about sexuality.