Some parents might worry that the human papillomavirus vaccine could lead to more sex or more unsafe sex in teenagers and young people. However, a new study conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio and published in the Pediatrics journal finds that these concerns are unwarranted.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the US, HPV affects 7.5 million teenage girls and young women between the ages of 14 and 24. Although HPV can cause cervical cancer and other genital cancers, vaccines are available to treat 70% of these.
Currently, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that women should be vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 26, men should be vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 21, and that men who are at high risk should be vaccinated between 22 and 26.
Concern over the vaccine leading to more risky sexual behavior may have led to an increase in the vaccination of adolescents. Between 2010 and 2012, vaccination of 13- to 17-year-old girls increased from about 49% to 54%.
In the new study, the researchers asked 300 teenage girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 21 to complete a questionnaire immediately after being given the HPV vaccine. Follow-up surveys were conducted 2 and 6 months later.
The factors assessed by the surveys included demographics, knowledge and attitudes about the HPV vaccine, beliefs about risk of getting an STI other than HPV after vaccination, and beliefs about the importance of safe sex after vaccination.
The surveys also gathered data on the sexual behaviors of the young women.
These included whether sex was initiated by the sexually inexperienced people in the survey after having the vaccination, whether the people in the survey who were sexually experienced went on to have sex without a condom and also how many sexual partners the teenagers and young women in the study had.
The study found that the sexual behaviors of the young people did not change in the 6 months after vaccination. Whether the young women in the study thought safe sex was less important after vaccination, or just as important as before the vaccination, or whether they believed the vaccine did or did not decrease the risk of STIs, there was no change in the sexual behaviors of the girls and young women in the study.
In addition, the researchers found that the vast majority of the people in the study believed that it was still important to practice safe sex after vaccination and that they understood the HPV vaccination does not protect against other STIs.
“Data demonstrating that HPV vaccination does not lead to riskier behaviors will allow clinicians to provide accurate, evidence-based information to address the concerns of parents and thereby increase vaccination rates,” says Dr. Jessica Kahn, a physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s.
“We hope this study reassures parents, and thus improves HPV vaccination rates, which in turn will reduce rates of cervical and other cancers that can result from HPV infection.”
In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that the introduction of the HPV vaccine has significantly reduced the prevalence of HPV in women and teenage girls.