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HPV Shots Still Controversial Despite Benefits: What Do You Miss Out On When You Opt Out?

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Research has shown that parents are likelier to support the use of vaccines against the human papilloma virus (HPV) if they are given the choice to opt out. But what are the consequences if they do?

Primarily, their children are missing out on protection from cancers caused by the HPV. Cervical cancer is the one most commonly associated with the virus, but HPV is also responsible for vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, throat and neck cancers.

Specifically, HPV vaccines have been proven to prevent nearly all kinds of cervical cancers, majority of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers, 91 percent of anal cancer and 72 percent of throat and neck cancers.

Every year, some 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Every year too, 4,000 of these women die from the disease.

Genital HPV is commonly passed from one individual to another via direct skin contact during sexual activity. As such, most sexually active people will acquire the virus at some point in their lifetime, although many won't know it. Most HPV types don't cause symptoms and will clear out on their own, but those that stay can cause cancer or lead to genital warts. Though not life-threatening, genital warts are uncomfortable to treat and can cause emotional stress.

In the U.S. alone, nearly one in every four people have an HPV infection. That's almost 80 million people already infected in the country, and 14 million people, teens included, are getting infected every year.

HPV vaccines are only mandatory, so far, in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Rhode Island. Some parents may feel that simply talking about the vaccine opens up their children to sex at a young age, but it is precisely in this young age that the vaccine is most effective, best administered before a person has been exposed to HPV.

However, even those who missed their HPV shots when they were young are advised to still get the vaccine because it will still offer some level of protection against HPV cancers. Beyond 26 years of age, though, men and women are no longer advised to receive the HPV vaccine as its benefits will already be too minimal to be of value.

There are three HPV vaccines available: Cervarix, Gardasil 9 and Gardasil. Each vaccine is given in three rounds — after the first shot, the second one is administered a month or two afterward, while the third is given six months after the first shot.

HPV vaccines are safe, tested on thousands of people around the world before being approved. No adverse side effects have been reported due to the vaccines and no deaths have been linked to its use either. Nausea, dizziness, fever and pain and redness at the injection site may be experienced, but these are common side effects of all vaccines. However, those who have a severe latex allergy are warned against getting Cervarix while those with severe yeast allergy are not to be given Gardasil 9 or Gardasil.

Photo: Blake Patterson | Flickr

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