Yesterday we reviewed a recent study demonstrating persisting immunogenicity, efficacy, and safety of the quadrivalent human papilloma (HPV) vaccine 10 years after completion of the shot series. Dr. Valerie A. Jones says assuredly that her daughter will receive the vaccine once she turns 11 years old:
As an OB/GYN doctor, I know about the HPV virus and have seen so many patients affected by this virus that can cause cervical cancer if left untreated. I have seen women die from cervical cancer caused by this virus. I have seen pregnant women who are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer have to decide whether to delay treatment or potentially risk their pregnancy by treating the disease.
In the United States, the prevalence of genital HPV infections in adult females is nearly 40%; one-fifth of American women (20.4%) are infected with a strain of HPV that puts them at high risk for cancer. Among American adult males, the numbers are even more worrisome: almost half (45.2%) have evidence of genital HPV infections and a quarter (25.1%) have high risk strains. More than 80% of American adults have already been exposed to HPV viruses during their lifetimes, estimates Dr. Jones. How, she wonders, does that happen?
Well, let’s assume your daughter has one lifetime sexual partner. Let’s pretend her future husband only had one girlfriend prior to meeting your daughter. However, maybe his previous girlfriend had five partners, and who knows how many exposures those five partners had.
Now it’s easy to see that you don’t have to be sexually promiscuous to be exposed to HPV. It could happen to anyone and often does. HPV is silent (there are often no symptoms), and people don’t know they have it and therefore pass it on to others unknowingly.
Intellectually and professionally, Dr. Jones comprehends the scientific data informing physicians about HPV infections, the frequency of their carcinogenic potential, and the safety and efficacy of immunizing against it. If she also had a son, he’d most likely be getting the HPV vaccine on his 11th birthday, too. In her profession, Dr. Jones has seen enough “shocked and terrified” young people in her office wondering how cancer from this very common virus could happen to them:
As a mother, I am just like any other parent who would do anything to prevent my child from suffering. I worry about risks and benefits of treatments (even preventative) and how they will affect my daughter. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to truly understand the research and risks behind this vaccine through extensive training in obstetrics and gynecology.
It is also empowering to have access to a vaccine that can actually prevent cancer.
So, while the physician in me appreciates and understands the research and clinical implications this vaccine portends, when I counsel patients, I find the mother in me also weighing in.
Since I do have a young daughter who I would do anything to protect, I can assuredly say that she will be getting her HPV vaccine when she turns 11. I want to know that I did my job as her mother to protect her when she can’t yet understand how this may impact her life down the road.
The PediaBlog has covered HPV many times here.