Saturday, March 5, 2016

HPV vaccination works. Vaccinate your tweens!

Let me start by saying that if you are an anti-vaxxer, turn around right now and go somewhere else. I don't really want to waste my breath on you. In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

And the fact is that vaccines are safe. Period. There is no real scientific debate on this topic.

OK, got that out of the way.

One vaccine that you know is close to my heart is the HPV vaccine (Human papillomavirus). Had the HPV vaccine existed when I was an adolescent, and had I received it, my cancer would have been prevented.

The CDC has recommended since 2006 that all girls aged 11 and 12 receive the HPV vaccine, and has recommended the same for boys since 2011. Teens and young adults who did not receive the vaccine still should: the current guidelines specify vaccinations of males up to age 21 and females up to age 26.

Since the initial recommendation is now 10 years old, we have some pretty good history available to see how the vaccine is working in the population. The graph above shows the rate of HPV infection in young women in the United States before and after the vaccine was introduced. Note the huge decrease in infection in the age groups that were covered by the recommendation. Among girls who were vaccinated, only 2% were infected as opposed to 17% of unvaccinated girls.

This will prevent hundreds of thousands of cancers in both sexes in the decades to come. If all kids were vaccinated, cervical and other HPV-related cancers would disappear. Eventually, Pap smears would disappear, too.

But vaccination rates are far too low: only about 40% of girls and 20% of boys are being vaccinated.

As I've urged many times before: if you are the parent of an adolescent, please vaccinate him or her!

The argument that vaccinating your child to protect them from a sexually-transmitted virus will encourage them to have sex earlier is, first of all, absurd. And secondly, it's selfish. That's putting your own puritanical beliefs before the life of your child.

Sex won't kill them.

Cancer might.

Coincidentally, Progeny the Elder just turned 12. She received her first dose of the vaccine this week.