Winnike: Protect your child from HPV without consenting to risky behavior
Originally published in the Houston Chronicle
The numbers of cancer cases related to the human papillomavirus have been heading in the wrong direction, while far too few teenagers in Texas are protected with a simple two-dose vaccine that is proving remarkably successful at preventing those cancers.
Parents understandably have concerns about vaccines that they didn't get as youngsters. So let us use this moment to address parents' main questions, in hopes of preventing HPV-related cancers from afflicting future generations.
Does it work well?
The HPV vaccine underwent many years of testing before it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and added to the CDC's schedule of recommended vaccines, showing that it prevented the strains of HPV that were most likely to cause cancer. All vaccines go through far more testing and oversight before approval than the other medications these agencies approve.
But how well does the vaccine perform in the general public? So far, the signs are hugely encouraging.
Recent research from Finland found that none of the women in the study who received the HPV vaccine 15 years ago have developed any of the related cancers. A 2016 study in New Mexico found that the incidence of precancerous lesions related to HPV fell by more than half among teenage girls from 2007 to 2014, even though only about 40 percent of teenage girls were fully vaccinated.
Much of the extraordinary success is attributed to herd immunity. When substantial numbers of both adolescent boys and girls have been vaccinated, they cannot pass the virus on to others.
The vaccine appears so effective that, according to a study last November, vaccinated women might need only three Pap smears in their lifetimes!