August 20, 2014 — A new study in Pediatrics found that the human papillomavirus vaccine protects against HPV and its associated conditions and diseases for at least eight years, according to HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report.
For the study, researchers randomly assigned 1,781 sexually inactive boys and girls ages nine to 15 to receive a series of three HPV vaccine doses or placebo shots.
They found that that none of the participants who received the vaccine developed conditions or diseases associated with HPV, such as genital warts. In addition, participants had sustained levels of antibodies to protect against the disease at the end of the eight-year study.
Lead researcher Daron Ferris, director of Georgia Regents University's HPV epidemiology and prevention program, said the study affirms the vaccine's safety and efficacy, with no need for patients to receive a booster dose beyond the recommended three shots.
Survey Examines Why Girls Are Not Getting HPV Vaccine
In related news, a separate survey in Pediatrics found that physicians delayed administering the HPV vaccine to girls because they incorrectly believed that it should be given when girls are more likely to be sexually active. CDC recommends that children receive the vaccine at ages 11 or 12.
The researchers interviewed 37 providers and 124 parents. While most of the physicians and parents thought girls should be vaccinated, providers often delayed recommending the vaccine for girls ages 11 and 12 because they did not think the girls were sexually active. According to the survey, providers recommended delaying vaccination until the girls were older.
The study also found that physicians reported higher vaccination rates when they presented the vaccine as a routine part of the vaccination schedule and discussed it as a way to prevent cancer, rather than as a way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (Reinberg, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 8/18).
NYT Op-Ed: HPV Vaccine is 'Not About Sex. It's About Cancer.'
In a related New York Times opinion piece, Paul Offit -- a professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia -- writes that a major reason physicians are not recommending the HPV vaccine is that "[d]octors don't want to talk about sex," but "[t]he good news is, they don't have to."
Offit reminds doctors that the need for the vaccine is "not about sex. It's about cancer." He also cites research that dispels the misconception that the vaccine might "increase sexual promiscuity."
Offit suggests several other reasons why HPV vaccination rates are lower than those for other vaccines. He writes that "[p]eople just don't understand how serious an infection HPV can be"; they don't know that the vaccine "would most likely prevent most cervical cancers" and provide immunity for a long time; and "some high-profile -- and highly irresponsible -- claims have been made that the vaccine is unsafe," despite medical evidence to the contrary.
Offit concludes, "Given current rates of immunization, somewhere around 2,000 adults every year whose parents had chosen not to give them the HPV vaccine will probably die from a preventable cancer. It's unconscionable. And doctors will have only themselves to blame" (Offit, New York Times, 8/19).