The vaccination that adolescents, mostly girls, get to protect against the sexually transmitted HPV virus is, again, in the news. In a Republican debate, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann alleged the vaccine could have very dangerous side effects. She faulted Gov. Rick Perry for once pushing that all sixth grade girls be vaccinated.
The Political Firestorm
Republican GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry came under fire from his fellow candidates during a recent debate because he had put forward an executive order attempting to mandate the HPV vaccine for school entry. When the Texas legislature opposed the measure, he didn’t pursue it. But the broaching of the subject at the debate was what prompted Bachmann’s comments about the alleged link between the vaccine and mental retardation.
Lack of Supporting Evidence for Side Effects
Diane asked the guests if there were any reports that demonstrated links between the HPV vaccine and developmental disorders like autism. The guests agreed that there is no existing research demonstrating any such links or causation. “In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement discussing how the HPV vaccine has not been associated with mental retardation,” Dr. Sanders said.
How HPV Works
According to Dr. Sanders, many people don’t know that they have HPV, and it is often asymptomatic. About 90 percent of HPV infections clear naturally with no treatment in about 2 years. Dr. Debiasi noted that the virus is so common that about 50 percent of all sexually active people have some form of it. And Dr. Sanders pointed out that although the vast majority of cases resolve with no complications, there are some strains that are more likely to result in cancers, including some oral cancers.
Solutions Based in Behavior-Change
Sprigg makes a distinction between HPV and other viruses children are routinely vaccinated against, like measles and mumps. Sprigg says that since youth can protect themselves from HPV by abstaining from sexual contact, it is in a different category from the other diseases. Sprigg also believes that if a state does pass a law mandating vaccines, there should be an opt-in rather than opt-out system.
What is the Ideal Age-Range?
Dr. Sanders said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends catch-up immunization or vaccination against the HPV infection in 13- to 26-year-olds. She also pointed out that there are studies looking at whether or not it can be used in even older woman because there’s a big need for evidence to show whether or not it’s as effective in the older population as it is in the younger population. Dr. Dibiasi noted that some people aren’t aware that the vaccine is safe for boys, too.