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Most Americans don’t know HPV vaccine prevents cancer


© Wikipedia Commons, 2013

© Wikipedia Commons, 2013

The blogosphere has been chatting a lot lately about Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), mainly because of  Katie Couric, a fairly popular USA-based journalist with her own eponymous TV talk show, Katie, who did a falsely balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science.  

The vast majority of Americans haven’t been vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus) and are unsure about the shots’ effectiveness in preventing cancers, according to a presentation to the American Association for Cancer Research based on data culled from a survey of 1700 individuals in the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The CDC states that HPV is directly responsible for cervical canceranal cancervulvar cancervaginal canceroropharyngeal cancer and penile cancer. These are all deadly, disfiguring, and potentially preventable cancers through the use of HPV vaccines. 

Worse yet, according to lead researcher, Kassandra Alcaraz, director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society, the new study found that just one in three U.S. girls and less than 5% of U.S. boys has received the full recommended course of three shots of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine. Part of the reason for the low vaccine uptake rate was that the survey found that around 70% of Americans were unsure of the vaccine’s role in preventing cancers in both men and women.

“Perceptions about the HPV vaccine may be contributing to these trends,” according to Dr. Alcaraz. “This uncertainty may influence decision-making about getting vaccinated, and it hinders our ability to reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality and reduce disparities in cervical cancer.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HPV types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers, and cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked, and reportedly contracted by actor Michael Douglas) and penile (35% linked) cancers. These cancers, can be prevented as long as you can prevent the HPV infection from ever happening, which usually happens through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex.

The CDC reported recently that a wide variety of excuses were made by parents for avoiding getting the vaccine. A recent systematic analysis of 55 studies on the HPV vaccine have found similar disparities in knowledge and fears about the vaccine, similar to the CDC report. Much of the problem laid in the parents’ misconceptions about the vaccine’s safety in young children, driven by lies and misinformation by the antivaccination crowd, and physician’s reluctance to recommend the vaccine to adolescents and teens. According to the HINTS survey in 2013, fully 80% of physicians did not discuss the HPV vaccine with patients. Throw in the lack of understanding by the public that the HPV vaccine actually prevents cancer, and we have a formula for extremely low uptake.

Despite the low HPV vaccine uptake, HPV infection rates have dropped substantially since the vaccine was cleared for release in the USA. The same results were recently mirrored in a report examining HPV infection rates in the UK.

Just in case there’s some question, the lifetime risk of contracting cervical cancer alone (ignoring all other cancers caused by HPV) is around 6.0 per 1,000. Furthermore, the lifetime risk, for each woman, of death from cervical cancer is around 2.0 per 1,000. In other words, the risk of death from cervical cancer is nearly 2000X higher than even the imaginary (and scientifically unsupported) assumed 1 in 1 million risk of serious adverse effect from the vaccine. 

And in massive epidemiological studies, totally over 500,000 teens and adolescents and nearly 1 million doses of the HPV vaccine, researchers found no serious adverse events. None.

OK, America. The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. And it’s safe. The logic seems to be substantially on the side of getting the vaccine.

 

If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

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