Study Finds Marketing, Misinformation Clouds Purpose of HPV Vaccine

Back in December 2010 we posted an article on how Gardasil’s marketing was misleading and now science finally caught up.

Fundamental misunderstandings about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine may lead some adolescent girls to mistakenly believe they no longer need to practice safer sexual behaviors, according to a study published in the January 2012 issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

The study focused on girls aged 13 to 21 years who received the HPV vaccine as well as their mothers and included 339 adolescents and 235 mothers or other female guardians of those adolescents. Less than twenty-five percent of the girls in the study believed that they were less at risk for sexually transmitted diseases other than HPV after receiving the vaccine; however, this represents a potentially significant risk to nearly one-fourth of girls who receive the vaccination. Over half of the girls surveyed in the study were sexually active with one or more partners.

According to the study, the major risk factors for this particular misconception included:

  • Little or no understanding of the HPV vaccine and its purpose
  • Lack of communication between mother and daughter
  • Failure to use condoms during most recent sexual encounter with male partner
  • Lack of concern over the potential effects of an HPV infection
  • Receiving information on the HPV vaccine from a teacher or physician

Especially in urban environments, the need for safer sexual behaviors in order to protect against sexually transmitted diseases is often downplayed or overlooked. The study was conducted in a clinic located in a low-income urban area and researchers indicated that the results derived from this particular population may not be applicable on a larger scale. Nonetheless, the implications of this study should prompt additional education for young women who are scheduled to receive the HPV vaccine.

HPV infections are widespread with around 20 million sufferers in the U.S. alone. The symptoms of the various HPV infections include genital warts, cervical cancers and other less common cancers. While more than 40 types of HPV have been identified, only two vaccines are currently approved for use in the U.S. While both varieties protect against cervical and other cancers, the Gardasil vaccine also prevents infection with the HPV that causes genital warts, making it a preferred choice for many girls.

The vaccine is recommended for women up to the age of 26, but is most effective in girls who are not yet sexually active and who have not come into contact with the HPV virus. The HPV vaccine cannot cure existing infections and should not be used to treat those infections once they have been diagnosed.

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