You may not know a lot about the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection that often goes away by itself, but can lead to long-lasting damage, including certain types of cancers. You’re not alone. A lot of parents I talk to have misinformation, partially correct information, or just flat-out wrong information about the virus and the vaccine that can prevent it. This is a serious issue, considering that 4-out-of-5 people have HPV at some point during their lives. Vaccination can help prevent the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. Unfortunately, myths and rumors shared on social media, blogs, and alternative health websites make claims that may scare away parents and their children from this life-saving vaccine. Here are some of the myths patients have come to me about concerning the HPV vaccine.
Myth: The HPV vaccine is dangerous.
Fact: Not only is the vaccine safe, it was tested on about 20,000 women in 33 countries and 4,000 males in 18 countries before its use was approved. The vaccine was rigorously tested for safety and passed those tests – boasting an almost 100 percent effective rate in preventing abnormalities that often precursors to HPV-related cancer. More than 80 million doses have been given in the U.S. alone, and there have been no serious issues related to the vaccine reported.
Myth: Only sexually active people need the HPV vaccine.
Fact: Like almost any vaccine – think flu, polio, MMR – the HPV vaccine works best if given to someone before they’re introduced to the virus. Because of this, it only makes sense that the vaccine is even more effective if it’s given to someone before they’re sexually active.
Myth: There are several negative side effects after taking the HPV vaccine.
Fact: There have been no reports of serious side effects stemming from the HPV vaccine. Any reported side effects are similar to side effects that come with any vaccine: slight pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, and occasionally a patient with an allergy to yeast or latex might have an allergic reaction to the HPV vaccine – as with any vaccine.
Myth: The HPV vaccine hasn’t been proven to prevent HPV-related cancers.
Fact: There is scientific proof the vaccine protects against almost all HPV-related infections and issues related to cervical and penile cancers.
Myth: Only females can be vaccinated.
Fact: The vaccine should be given to males and females, and is safe for both, as both genders are able to get and give HPV to partners. In fact, males should be vaccinated to prevent cancers more common in men linked to the HPV virus, such as cancers of the anus, penis, throat, and tongue.
Myth: Giving your child the vaccine will lead them to be promiscuous.
Fact: Several studies have been done and there is no evidence that being vaccinated for the HPV virus leads to any change in sexual behavior for males or females.
Myth: The HPV vaccine can cause problems with fertility.
Fact: The HPV vaccine can actually prevent fertility problems for women by combatting serious cervical issues that can keep a person from being pregnant.
Myth: Taking the vaccine can give you the virus and cause cancer.
Fact: The HPV vaccine will not give you cancer nor HPV. It works the same way as other vaccines: by forcing your body to make antibodies which it will use to fight the actual virus if you’re ever exposed to it.
Dr. Richard Byrd is Chief of Pediatrics at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He cares for his patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Sienna Plantation Clinic in Missouri City. His clinical interests include childhood immunizations, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, breastfeeding, preventive care, and childhood obesity.