Despite concerns among some parents, the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) does not cause riskier behavior in teens, nor does it raise rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), revealed a team of experts at Harvard Medical School and the University of Southern California.
Health authorities recommend the HPV vaccine for preteen and teenage boys and girls as a way to prevent HPV, which can go undetected and lead to cancers of the cervix, anus, penis, mouth and throat. However, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 38 percent of girls aged 13-17 in the United States had received all three recommended doses in 2013, and even fewer boys were vaccinated. The CDC said, "Vaccination rates have been slowly rising in the years since 2006, when the vaccine was introduced. In 2013, the most recent year in which officials have data, 57 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys began the HPV vaccine series with at least one of the three recommended shots. But experts would like to see even higher rates of vaccination."
To study if HPV vaccination could be linked to higher STI rates, researchers compared 21,000 girls who were vaccinated to 186,000 unvaccinated girls of the same age. Rates of STIs were measured four times per year, for the year prior to vaccination and the year after. It was revealed that the girls who were vaccinated had slightly higher rates of STI than the unvaccinated girls, both before and after vaccination. Researchers said, "We believe these higher rates were attributable to the higher likelihood of sexual activity among girls who are getting vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated girls."
However, both groups experienced an increase in STI rates as they grew older, and this increase occurred at the same pace, whether or not the girls had been vaccinated. Study co-author Seth Seabury said, "This suggests that the girls' sexual behaviors were not altered in the least by the vaccine. Any behaviors resulting in infections that did occur were independent of the vaccine. If the HPV vaccine had caused an increase in risky sexual behavior, we would have found a higher rate of STI among vaccinated girls after they received the vaccine, since it only protects against HPV and not any other diseases. We found no such increase, causing us to conclude that there was no association between using the vaccine and unsafe sexual practices."
Researcher Anupam Jena said, "The findings should be seen as good news for concerned parents. Since this is one of the few medications ever developed that can actually prevent cancer, it's good to be able to reassure parents, physicians and policymakers that the vaccine does not promote unsafe sexual practices among girls and young women."
The study findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.