7 Myths About The HPV Vaccine Doctors Want To Bust
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine has been distributed to millions of people in the United States since it became available in 2006, but despite its enormous efficacy rate, myths about the HPV vaccine still make it difficult for people to seek it out. Getting the HPV vaccine can lower your risk of contracting strains of the virus that are associated with certain cancers, which is why it's important to combat misinformation about this medicine.
"Over 80% of sexually active adults get HPV once in their lifetime at least," Dr. Electra Paskett, PhD, a cancer control researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells Bustle. "We can tell who will develop cancer from that infection." However, like other vaccines, the HPV shot — which is recommended for people in their early teens through twenties — has been dogged by several myths and misconceptions. Experts tell Bustle it's high time the misinformation about the HPV vaccine was dismissed.
Widespread uptake of the HPV vaccine is highly necessary. "We need to get the vaccination rate to 80% in the population to reach the herd immunity needed to eliminate cervical cancer," says Paskett. HPV is spread by sexual activity, so if you've had sex in your life, there's a reasonable chance you've come into contact with HPV. If you've shied away from the HPV shot because of concerns about effectiveness, doctors say it's time to reassess what's real and what's not.
1. "Monogamous People Won't Need It"
First, some background: HPV is an extraordinarily common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Many strains of HPV will have no symptoms, but some — four of which the vaccine guards against — can create cell changes that can lead to cancer. Because it's an STI, though, people think that if they've only ever had sex with one person, they don't need the shot. However, that's not the case. "That person might not be monogamous," says Paskett — and that means a chance of HPV. Studies reported by the American Sexual Health Association found that 80% of all people who'd had fewer than four sexual partners had HPV.
2. "It's Not Safe"
One of the most widespread myths about any kind of vaccine is that they induce the illness they protect against, or that they are linked to other kinds of diseases. Just as with other kinds of vaccines, there is absolutely no risk of developing autism or other conditions as a result of being inoculated against HPV.
"There is no convincing data linking the HPV vaccine to neurologic side effects such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, or any other demyelinating diseases, or to autism," Gerardo Bustillo, OB/GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells Bustle.
The only issue with the HPV vaccine, experts explain, is the possibility of allergic reactions. "People who are allergic to yeast or have shown an allergic reaction to a previous HPV vaccine should not get the vaccine," Dr Kate Killoran, medical advisor at YourDoctors, tells Bustle. "But everyone else should!"
3. "It Leads To Promiscuity"
"Many have assumed that the HPV vaccine would provide young people with a license to have sex, and thereby increase promiscuity and risky sexual behavior," Bustillo tells Bustle. However, studies on HPV and sexual behavior have shown this isn't the case — and teenagers are going to have sex with or without a vaccine (or contraception) to protect them, so it's better if they have protection as soon as they can.
4. "It Doesn't Work"
The effectiveness of the HPV vaccine, Paskett tells Bustle, is not in doubt. "It’s been given over 60 million times and works in all populations," she says. She notes that Australia, which was one of the first countries to reach 80% immunization in girls, has seen declines in both HPV rates and in the illnesses HPV causes, which is the biggest population-wide indicator that HPV protection can be achieved via vaccine.
5. "My Child Doesn't Need It"
Paskett tells Bustle she occasionally hears from parents who say their child doesn't need the HPV vaccine because it wasn't explicitly recommended by their doctor or school. "Not all doctors will recommend the vaccine during a busy clinic visit — you have to advocate for your child’s health," she explains. "Only two states and Washington D.C. mandate it for school entry now, but that does not mean it’s not important."
6. "It Causes Blood Clots"
There is no evidence for blood clots or other serious reactions from exposure to HPV vaccines. If you're getting the shot, Bustillo tells Bustle, you have "no increased risk of blood clots or serious allergic reactions like anaphylactic shock."
7. "HPV Vaccines Completely Prevent Cervical Cancer"
If you've had your HPV vaccine, you still need to pay attention to your health, and go for screenings for cervical issues regularly. The current HPV vaccine protects against a wide array of HPV types, but not all of them. "No vaccine can guarantee a perfect response from the recipient and there exist a significant number of high risk, carcinogenic HPV types not covered by the vaccine," OB/GYN Dr Felice Gersh tells Bustle. "Screening is still needed."
Myths around the HPV vaccine in the US have resulted in a 41% vaccination rate, a statistic Dr Killoran calls "pathetically low". The benefits of increasing that rate are enormous, she tells Bustle: "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if health care providers increase HPV vaccination rates in eligible recipients to 80%, it is estimated that an additional 53,000 cases of cervical cancer could be prevented during the lifetime of those younger than 12 years." For every year the vaccination rate remains at 41%, she says, an additional 4,400 women will get cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is safe, effective and helpful — so don't believe myths that might prevent you from being fully protected. "We need to get our heads out of the sand and protect our children and ourselves from a cancer that we can eliminate," says Paskett. If you catch anybody spreading misinformation about the HPV vaccine, it's best to do your research before you believe them.