There are more myths about the HPV vaccine than I can count. Without a doubt, the HPV vaccine is hated more than any other vaccine, except, maybe, for the MMR vaccine, which doesn’t cause autism. One of more popular myths is that the HPV vaccine affects fertility – there a continuing public concern about whether the HPV vaccine itself could affect future fertility.
Of course, there is no plausible reason why the HPV vaccine could reduce fertility in men or women. In fact, HPV infections have been associated with reduced semen quality and lower pregnancy rates, so logically, we could assume that preventing an HPV infection would actually improve fertility in men and women. But facts rarely have any meaning to solid myth making.
Fortunately, there is a newly published study which actually provides us with evidence about whether the HPV vaccine affects fertility. Not to give away the ending, but it doesn’t, except in one group of women, where it actually increases it. Oh well, I gave away the ending. But please, read the rest of the article.
All about HPV and the vaccine
I know, I’ve written about this vaccine over 100 times – however, this might be your first bit of research into the HPV vaccine, so it’s important to get a brief overview of HPV and the vaccines. If you’ve read this before, just skip to the next section if you want.
Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA. There are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans, although only 40 of these strains are linked to a variety of cancers. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious, those infections are closely linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:
- Cervical cancer, approximately 13,000 cases and 4,210 deaths each year.
- Vulvar cancer, approximately 6,000 cases and 1,150 deaths each year.
- Vaginal cancer, approximately 4,800 cases and 1,240 deaths each year.
- Anal cancer, 8,200 new cases and 1,100 deaths each year.
- Oropharyngeal cancer, approximately 50,000 cases and 9700 deaths each year.
- Penile cancer, approximately 2,100 cases and 360 deaths each year.
(All data is for the USA only.)
These are all dangerous and disfiguring cancers that can be mostly prevented by the HPV cancer vaccine. If you’re a male, and you think that these are mostly female cancers, penile cancer can lead to amputation of your penis. Just think about that guys.
HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco with respect to cancer. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. About 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.
There were three HPV vaccines on the market. GSK, also known as Glaxo SmithKline manufactured Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine which has been withdrawn from the US market. Merck manufactures Gardasil9, a 9-valent vaccine, along with Gardasil, a quadrivalent HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine affects fertility – in a positive way
A study published in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, by Kathryn McInerney et al., examined whether the HPV vaccine affects fertility. McInerney, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, led the research.
The prospective cohort study followed 3,483 women and 1,022 men aged 21 to 45 years old who were actively trying to conceive. Couples were followed for 12 months or until pregnancy, whichever came first. At enrollment, 33.9 percent of women had been vaccinated against HPV, compared to 5.2 percent of men (something that needs to be changed).
The researchers found no adverse effects of HPV vaccination on fertility. However, the study did find that the vaccine may actually protect fertility in women who have had other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Since STIs are associated with lower fertility, this provides compelling evidence that the HPV vaccine is useful in improving fertility in some women.
The authors concluded that,
Although (the) HPV vaccination had little effect on fecundability overall, HPV vaccination was positively associated with fecundability among women with a history of sexually transmitted infections.
According to lead researcher, Kathryn McInerney,
Internationally, parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children due to concerns about the vaccine’s effect on future fertility. We hope this study will be useful for health providers who counsel individuals and families about HPV vaccination.
I think that issue also affects the HPV vaccine uptake rate in the USA too. This study should put a stake in that myth that the HPV vaccine is dangerous to women’s fertility.
HPV vaccine affects fertility – the conclusion
Basically, this study from McInerney et al. helps debunk those unfounded myths that Gardasil harms fertility of young women and men. In fact, in a group of women who have had STIs, which is related to lower fertility, Gardasil improves their chances to conceive.
The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. The HPV vaccine affects fertility in a positive way. The HPV vaccine saves lives.
Parents, please vaccinate your children with Gardasil.
- McInerney KA, Hatch EE, Wesselink AK, Mikkelsen EM, Rothman KJ, Perkins RB, Wise LA. The Effect of Vaccination Against Human Papillomavirus on Fecundability. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2017 Sep 7. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12408. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28881394.
- Souho T, Benlemlih M, Bennani B. Human papillomavirus infection and fertility alteration: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2015 May 18;10(5):e0126936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126936. eCollection 2015. Review. PubMed PMID: 25992782; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4436317.
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