For the past few years, a key aspect of the controversy over HPV vaccines among some parents and social conservatives has been whether teenage girls will view the preventive shots as a green light of sorts toward premarital or unprotected sex. The vaccines, you may recall, were approved to thwart certain strains of the human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer.
The debate, which has periodically flared, briefly figured in the Republican presidential primary race (see here and here) was a key argument in an unsuccessful effort to block a California bill that removes parental consent for vaccinating children 12 and older against sexually transmitted diseases (read this).
The vaccines - which include Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix - were approved for girls as young as 11 years old. But what do adolescent girls really think about these vaccines? A new study finds something for each point of view - most adolescents perceived a need for safer sexual behavior after the first HPV vaccination. But at the same time, nearly 24 percent believed they were less at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease after vaccination.
The study, which was published the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, queried 339 girls between the ages of 13 to 21 about their views on sexual risks after their first HPV vaccination, which require a series of three booster shots. The study also surveyed 235 moms. The setting was an urban hospital-based adolescent primary care clinic. The mean age of the girls was 16.8 years, 76 percent were African-American and 57 percent were sexually experienced (read the abstract).
The upshot? The researchers concluded that "education about HPV vaccines and encouraging communication between girls and their mothers may prevent misperceptions among these adolescents." That's because neither HPV vaccine prevents such sexually transmitted diseases as syphillis, gonorrhea or HIV, although Gardasil does protect against some HPV strains that cause genital warts.
In other words, those who worry that some young girls will misconstrue the utility of these vaccines may have a point - if one in four adolescent girls mistakenly believes a vaccine can prevent certain STDs, they may behave differently than they otherwise would. Of course, the study does note that education is crucial, and parents share that responsibility. The study, by the way, was funded by the National Institutes of Health, but some of the researchers have received research grants from Merck.
vaccine pic thx to lulu on flickr