Preteen girls who received the HPV vaccine were no more likely than unvaccinated girls to get pregnant, develop sexually transmitted infections, or seek birth-control counseling, finds the latest study to discount concerns that vaccination against the human papillomavirus encourages promiscuity.
Other studies, including a report on British teens out last week, also have dismissed the notion. But most relied on self-reporting by girls or their parents, says Robert Bednarczyk, lead author of a study in Pediatrics. He is a clinical investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research-Southeast and an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta.
His study of 1,398 girls, ages 11 and 12, analyzed medical data from the Kaiser Permanente Georgia managed-care group, and offers “the first clinical validation of what we’ve seen in self-reported surveys,” says Bednarczyk. “We’re hoping (it) will provide some reassurance to parents and to physicians that this concern that has been raised in the past isn’t an actual barrier. Receiving this vaccine won’t lead to increased sexual activity.”
For the analysis, Bednarczyk and colleagues examined “clinical markers of sexual activity” – pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease infections and contraceptive counseling – for two groups of preteen girls for up to three years. One group of 493 girls had received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine Gardasil, along with other recommended vaccines for tetanus and meningitis. A comparison group of 905 girls had received the tetanus and meningitis vaccines, but not HPV.
Overall, “there was a very similar rate of testing, diagnosis and counseling between both groups,” with no increase in pregnancies, STIs or birth-control counseling, says Bednarczyk.
Less than 1 percent of all girls had a positive test for a sexually transmitted infection, and less than 1 percent had a positive pregnancy test, he says.
Sexual risk taking “has been raised as a concern around HPV vaccination and invoked as a reason for not vaccinating, but has no support empirically, and is clinically and ethically wrong,” says Gregory Zimet, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who has studied attitudes toward vaccination.
The new study “really demonstrates that getting the HPV vaccination is not somehow a signal to start having unprotected sex,” he says.
According to the most recent CDC figures, 53 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine in 2011. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that girls ages 11 to 12 receive three doses of the vaccine to protect them from HPV, which is transmitted through sexual contact and can cause genital warts and cervical, penile, vaginal, head and neck cancers.
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