HPV VACCINE: facts and myths

There is always a lot of discussion among parents about their children and children's health issues. Unfortunately when information travels this way the facts often get lost among a lot of myths and information morphs into misinformation. The HPV vaccine seems to have become a victim of this sort of information transformation resulting in a distressingly low rate of vaccination among those who could most benefit from this highly effective and safe vaccine. The effect of this misunderstanding is that some men will get genital warts, and oral cancers and thousands of women will get cervical cancers that could have been avoided. This fact sheet is meant to dispel these myths and save lives by increasing vaccination rates.

FACTS

  • About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV.
  • Among women in the United States aged 14 to 59, investigators found that a total of 26.8 percent of women overall tested positive for one or more strains of HPV.
  • HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. If you protect yourself from HPV you are unlikely to get cervical cancer.
  • Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in women 15-44 yrs old.
  • The HPV vaccine is nearly 100% effective against the most common types of HPV.
  • More than 57 million people have been given the vaccine and there have been no serious safety concerns.

MYTHS

  • MYTH: The vaccine can give you the virus and cause cancer.

FACT: The vaccine cannot cause cancer or any other HPV-related diseases.

  • MYTH: The HPV vaccine causes more serious side effects than other vaccines.

FACT: Over 79 million doses of the vaccine have been given in the U.S. and all adverse reactions are monitored and investigated.

All vaccines can have side effects. The reactions that people have had after the HPV vaccine have been similar to reactions from other vaccines. The most common side effects are pain, redness and/or swelling at the site of injection.

  • MYTH: Having the vaccine at a young age leads to promiscuity.

FACT: There is no evidence that boys and girls who receive the vaccine have sex earlier than those who do not have the vaccine, nor do they have more sexual partners once they became sexually active.

  • MYTH: Only people who have multiple sexual partners get HPV.

FACT: You can be infected with HPV from one sexual partner, the first time you are sexually active

  • MYTH: Condoms can protect you from HPV

FACT: Condoms offer some but not total protection from HPV, as they don’t cover all of the genital skin. The HPV vaccine offers nearly 100% protection against the HPV viruses most likely to cause cervical cancer.

  • MYTH: The vaccine wasn't properly tested and hasn't been proven to prevent HPV-related cancers.

FACT: In initial clinical trials, the vaccine was given to 20,000 women aged 16–26 years in 33 countries including Australia, before it was approved for widespread use.

These trials showed the vaccine is almost 100 per cent effective in preventing abnormalities in cells in the cervix caused by high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. These abnormalities are a proven pre-cursor to cervical cancer.

Further clinical trials involving more than 4,000 males aged 16–26 years from 18 countries showed the vaccine was 90 per cent effective in preventing genital warts and abnormalities associated with penile cancer, and 78 per cent effective in preventing anal disease, caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.

  • MYTH: The vaccine only protects against cervical cancer, so boys don't need it.

FACT: The vaccine protects against 70 per cent of cervical cancers, however it also provides protection against most of the genital and oral cancers in men caused by HPV infection. Additionally, the vaccine protects against 90 per cent of genital warts in both women and men . Also men who are vaccinated are less likely to get their partners infected.