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Ask Dr. Meg: “What are Your Thoughts on the HPV vaccine?”

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Dr. Meg Meeker

What are your thoughts on the HPV vaccine for girls and boys? If you agree with it, what age should it be administered? Thanks!!

So Confused!!!!

Dear So Confused –

Whether or not to vaccinate against HPV is confusing and rightly so because it is a loaded issue. HPV, of course is transmitted through sexual intercourse and none of us wants our teens to be sexually active until marriage. (Those who think teen sex is fine read my book Your Kids at Risk.)

I encourage you to read one of my prior blogs on the vaccine but in addition to those, let me add a few things.

First, as a pediatrician and mother, I don’t believe that it’s ethical to give a vaccine to a child without telling him or her what it is for, when they can control whether or not they get HPV with their behavior. If a 13 year old gets the vaccine, he or she needs to know how dangerous and serious sex is and how he/she can avoid being sexually active. We give shots, but who teaches kids how NOT to have sex? That’s should be our number one priority.

Second, I talk openly and honestly with kids about sex when they are ready to talk. We should never crush their modesty but we need to step up to the plate and tell these kids what’s really going on around them. Sure, there are kids in high school who are sexually active, but there are many who aren’t. In fact, by they end of high school, studies show that sexually active/non-sexually active kids are 50/50. We also need to teach them that HPV isn’t just one virus. There are actually about 12 HPV strains that cause cancer. The vaccine only covers some of those. Plus- in addition to HPV, there are over 30 other STD’s that kids can get.

So- you get my point. Rather than just giving vaccines, what we really need to do is talk to our kids about the dangers of sex during the teen years and how to avoid sex. That’s the only way to keep them safe. Condoms don’t do a good enough job against many of the viruses like HPV and Herpes.

The short answer to your question is: yes, I give young people the vaccine but with a few conditions. First, I don’t give it until they are ready to understand what it ‘s for and how to prevent getting infected (abstinence.) Then, I talk to them about being abstinent. Finally, for teens who tell me that they absolutely won’t have sex until they are married (and many will abstain until they are married) I tell them that they can still become infected if their spouse has been sexually active before they met. I have had patients who are virgins when they marry but become infected by their spouses. That’s why I give vaccines to teens who are virgins- I don’t want HPV to cause cancer or trouble in their marriages.

One final note. Boys don’t get cervical cancer from HPV but they carry the virus and infect girls. The ethical question then is: should we vaccinate boys to prevent cervical cancer in their partners? All other vaccines prevent illness in the person getting the vaccine but this vaccine helps partners of boys, not the boys themselves. (Older men can get penile cancer from HPV later in life.)You can see that this can be an ethical dilemma. Bottom line: immunize both girls and boys to get rid of the nasty virus.

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