Too often, the Internet is filled with rumors about the dangers of vaccines. And those rumors are typically based on misinformation, disinformation and fear.
That’s been the case with Gardasil® (Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus (Types 6, 11, 16, 18) Recombinant Vaccine), the vaccine that protects girls and young women from the human papilloma virus (HPV). Many people who have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms. This means that they can pass on the virus to others and not know it. A male or female of any age who takes part in any kind of sexual activity that involves genital contact is at risk.
While all medicines carry some risk, the benefits of being vaccinated against HPV far outweigh the small potential dangers.
A large part of the backlash against this vaccine may be due to an effort by the drug’s manufacturer to make vaccination mandatory.
Do I believe that young girls and women should be forced to get the vaccine? Absolutely not. Coercion would be a mistake. And that attempt by the drug maker appeared, in this physician’s opinion, to place profits above the right to make a personal choice.
But, getting past the bad decisions of pharmaceutical companies, let’s look at the benefits for our daughters and ourselves. We know for a fact that HPV is connected to cervical cancer. And we know for a fact that cervical cancer is a horrible disease.
So, if you can get a vaccine that will largely protect you against HPV, then getting vaccinated is an absolute no-brainer. Gardasil® protects against four types of HPV: two types (Types 16, 18) that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and two more types (Types 6, 11) that cause about 90 percent of genital warts.
The HPV vaccine is typically offered to girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. Given in a series of three injections (initial vaccine, another in two months and the last in six months). For adolescents and younger, I would recommend discussing the vaccine with your gynecologist when your daughter comes in for her first gynecologic visit, which should be between 11 and 12 years of age. That first visit is only for an introduction to a gynecologist and a pelvic examination is not performed. It is a “get acquainted” visit and it is then that the benefits of the vaccine should be discussed. Gardasil® is most effective if you can vaccinate before a woman risks being exposed to HPV … in other words, before she becomes sexually active.
As a woman gets older, her body isn’t as susceptible to the damage of HPV, so vaccinating isn’t recommended.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH