Even though medical professionals encourage parents to get their children vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a preventative measure that can help safeguard against some types of cancer, the country’s rates of HPV vaccination are still much too low. And parents are increasingly citing safety concerns as their justification for failing to get their children their HPV shots — despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is actually unsafe.
According to a new study, 16 percent of the parents who didn’t choose to vaccinate their daughters in 2010 cited fears about the vaccine’s side effects and safety. That’s up from just 5 percent in 2008. And the number of parents who reported they had no plans to vaccinate their daughters in the future also rose — from 40 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2010 — even though pediatrician groups have made a concerted effort in recent years to educate parents about the importance of the HPV vaccine.
Gregory Zimet, a professor of pediatrics and clinical psychology at Indiana University School of Medicine, told USA Today that more work needs to be done to make sure that parents are better educated about the real nature of the HPV vaccine. “It’s particularly concerning that parental worries about safety have increased, given that evidence for the safety of HPV vaccination has increased over the same time period,” Zimet said. “In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly persuasive that HPV vaccines are quite safe.”
Most tellingly, parents didn’t exhibit the same increasing concerns over other adolescent vaccines like tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — suggesting that there’s something different about HPV vaccinations. Traditionally, the HPV vaccine has been set apart because HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and conservative fearmongering about “sexual promiscuity” has led some Americans to believe that vaccinating their daughters will somehow give young girls license to become sexually active. Obviously, that’s not the case at all. But the myths about Gardasil have become so pervasive that there have even been scientific studies debunking the imaginary link between the HPV vaccine and increased promiscuity.
For the past several years, federal officials have been recommending that girls receive the vaccination beginning at age 11 as an important preventative health measure, and that guideline was recently expanded to include young boys as well. According to the CDC, however, Americans aren’t following through. Just 30 percent of women between the ages of 19 and 26 had received one or more doses of the three-round HPV vaccine — even though federal guidelines recommend that every women complete her Gardasil doses by the time she reaches 26 years old. The low rates of vaccination are especially troubling considering the fact that cancers related to HPV are on the rise.