By Scott Gavura
Today’s post isn’t about the flu vaccine, but that vaccine played a part in bringing you today’s topic. It seems that this year’s vaccine is a mediocre match for the circulating strains of influenza, and I was one of the unlucky ones in whom it didn’t appear to provide much protection. After spending several days effectively bedridden, I still feel like I’m emerging from a cognitive fog. So today’s post will be short. In the midst of my own infection, the results of a new study were announced that examined the effects of HPV vaccination on indicators of sexual behaviour in adolescent girls. I admit to being a bit dumbfounded by the topic when I heard it, and I initially thought I had heard the research question incorrectly. After all, the answer seemed (to me) so clearly self-evident, I questioned if this was an ineffective use of research dollars. This question seemed as pertinent as continuing to study the relationship between vaccines and autism: there is little reason to think there would be any causal relationship. But surveys of parents show this is a real concern for some. And now we have an answer grounded in real-world evidence.
The HPV vaccine is an effective means of preventing cancer. Let’s pause to reflect on the sentence I just wrote. We can prevent cancer, before it starts, with a vaccine. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually-transmitted infection in North America, and almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. HPV causes a substantial number of cancer cases every year (26,000 per year in the US). As an anti-cancer strategy, vaccination is a pretty sensible one. HPV is not the only sexually-transmitted infection that can be prevented by vaccine. Hepatitis A and B are also sexually transmitted, and can be prevented with vaccines. However, immunization rates for HPV have lagged those of HBV and HAV, and anecdotally I haven’t seen a parental backlash against the hepatitis vaccines like I’ve seen against Gardasil and Cervarix, the two brands of HPV vaccine. Here are some uptake statistics for the Province of Ontario, where you can see the difference between hepatitis B and HPV:
I’m not going to spend time in this post reviewing the efficacy of the vaccine – that’s been blogged about before, and the CDC has excellent resources. And the safety of the vaccine has also been well established, in girls as well as boys. Despite what you may read on Natural News, Mercola or see in your Facebook feed, the HPV vaccine is effective and it lacks serious side effects. It is well tolerated and it works. Gardasil provides protection against four strains of the virus and Cervarix protects against the two strains that cause the most cases of cervical cancer.
The first vaccine, Gardasil was launched in 2006 and since that time has come to be offered by many public health agencies worldwide. In Ontario, where I happen to live, the program to vaccinate all girls started with the 2007 grade 8 cohort. The vaccine is offered in schools. Regrettably, the appropriateness of the vaccine was initially an issue with the publicly-funded Ontario Catholic School system but it’s now my understanding that the vaccine is being made routinely available to all grade 8 girls in Ontario. There are still substantial opt-out numbers, as you can see.
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