A new study has found that parents are fine with the highly controversial HPV, or human papilloma virus, vaccine so long as the process came with an opt out option. The finding is a revelation that highlights the PR issues surrounding the beneficial vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is unique because it's the only one invented explicitly for the purpose of preventing cancer. It has full backing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends the vaccine for boys and girls aged 11 and 12. Furthermore, it boasts one of the strongest safety records of any vaccine and is highly effective in preventing the infection that causes nearly all cervical cancer, 91 percent of anal cancer, 72 percent of the throat and neck cancers and a majority of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers.
Yet, despite these impressive stats, a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention has found that parents would only really be willing to have their children receive the vaccination if they could choose to opt out of it.
Specifically, 21 percent of respondents thought laws requiring the vaccine for school were a "good idea," yet that number rose significantly to 57 percent when questioned about how receptive they would be to the vaccinations should there be an "opt-out" provision attached.
"We were expecting a higher number of parents supporting vaccine requirements," said study author Wiliam Calo of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina. "Twenty-one percent is a lot lower than we expected."
The parents' response is rather amusing too, because while adding an opt out option would make parents more receptive to the laws mandating the vaccination, it would also weaken them. However, those concerns are a ways off, because as things stand, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the District of Columbia are the only locations in the U.S. that require students to receive the HPV vaccine.
Considering that HPV infects approximately 80 million people, about 14 million per year, one would think that parents would be more receptive towards the vaccination. And the reason why they aren't is simple: they simply don't know enough about its benefits that would warrant their support.
Of those interviewed, only 40 percent believed the vaccine prevented cervical cancer, about 23 percent falsely believed the vaccine might cause long-term health problems, 33 percent felt they lacked enough information to decide whether to vaccinate their children, and another 33 percent thought drug companies were pushing it to increase profits.
Out of all those factors, the continued belief that the vaccinations would lead to long-term health problems is the most damaging. A simple Google search will yield an assortment of stories about how the vaccine has led to various health complications and even death.
As is the typical internet fashion, these stories were greatly overstated, according to the CDC, between June 2006 and September 2015 there were 117 deaths reported out of the 80 million doses of HPV vaccine given. What's more, the CDC also said that upon further review, none of those deaths could be directly linked to the vaccine.
"I'm not surprised," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. "There has been a terrible job of promoting it. The funds have not been there to promote the vaccine as part of a comprehensive vaccination program."
So without the funds, what can be done to promote the vaccine? Simple word of mouth. Physicians and other health care providers will need to better educate parents about HPV vaccination.
Photo: Partha S. Sahana | Flickr