Parents of young girls and boys have not eagerly accepted the advice to have their children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccines protect against strains of the virus known to cause cervical cancer, genital warts, and throat cancer, among other types of cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in both the United States and Canada; it would seem that parents would be lining up to make sure their younger teens get the recommended three vaccine doses before they are exposed to the virus as such exposure is eventually nearly universal. But that doesn t seem to be happening. One reason for this apparent reluctance is the concern that young people might mistakenly believe the vaccine protects against multiple STDs, and that such misapprehensions might lead to promiscuity.
A group of Canadian researchers sought to evaluate what effect, if any, receiving the HPV vaccine might have on girls sexual behavior. Led by Dr. Leah M. Smith of McGill University in Ontario, they identified approximately 129,000 girls who would be eligible for their study. Girls who were eligible for publicly funded vaccinations were included in the study, and compared to girls who were not eligible. The girls were in the eighth grade during the 2 years before and after the implementation of Ontario s grade 8 vaccination program.
The investigators then ascertained from provincial records how many of the girls a) became pregnant or b) were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) other than HPV in grades 10-12. They found that 51 percent of eligible girls had received all three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine in grades 8 or 9, while fewer than one percent of non-eligible girls had done so.
Comparing the occurrence of pregnancy and/or non-HPV STDs between these groups, the researchers found that there was no difference in the risk of these outcomes between girls who had and had not been vaccinated.
Thus, they concluded [W]e found that neither HPV vaccination nor program eligibility increased the risk of pregnancy and non HPV-related sexually transmitted infections among females aged 14 17 years.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this comment These data should reassure parents of young girls that vaccination against HPV won t lead to sexual promiscuity. Further, it is also recommended that young boys receive the vaccine, since when it comes to STDs the maxim, it takes two to tango should be borne in mind. If these recommendations are widely implemented then both genders will be protected from a too common cause of STDs. On a related note, I would urge the Canadian public health authorities to remedy the two-tier situation in which uncovered teens were almost entirely shut out from the protection against HPV that those covered by insurance got. That does not seem fair.
To learn more about the anti-HPV vaccination, see our posts here.