Some Young Women May Overestimate HPV Vaccine Protection

U.S. Researchers are saying that some young women who get the HPV vaccine in order to prevent cervical cancer (among other concerns) incorrectly believe that getting the shot removes the need to practice safe sex.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine highlights a dire need for better education regarding the limitations of vaccines.

Merck’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix protect against certain strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts, but neither vaccine prevents other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, or HIV to name a few. In addition, HPV vaccines are preventative in nature, meaning that they are not substitutes for treatment of any active infections. The study says that most young women understand the limitations of the vaccine, but warn against overestimation of its effectiveness, specifically regarding the risks posed by other STDs unrelated to HPV.

Recently, the CDC advised that young males receive HPV shots as well almost five years after recommending vaccinating young females. Full story from Newsy below:

The study was performed by Dr. Tanya Kowalczyk of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and surveyed 339 girls between the ages of 13 and 21 regarding their perceptions surrounding their protection from STDs after their first HPV vaccination. While most girls understood the continued need to practice safe sex, a quarter of the respondents believed that the vaccine lessened the risk of contracting STDs. Among the factors associated with this belief included a poor understanding of HPV infections and their vaccines, less overall concern about contracting HPV, and lack of condom use with one’s previous male partner.

These findings point to a rising need for better education regarding the virus and its vaccine:

“Clinicians discussing HPV vaccination with girls and their mothers may need to emphasize the limitations of the vaccine and to specifically address that the vaccine does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections,” said researchers.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, with some individual grants by Merck. Authors admitted a limitation of the study; since the population surveyed were from a single urban clinic serving low-income clients, the findings may not be an accurate reflection of the general population’s beliefs and understanding.

Regardless, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is estimated that more than half of the U.S. adult population will be exposed to the virus at some point during their lifetime.

What do you think of recommended HPV vaccinations? Is there a greater need for education in this area of human health?