The Gardasil vaccine is back in the news. Gardasil is the vaccine recommended for both boys and girls to protect them against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and cervical cancer) Yesterday, an article published in Pediatrics confirmed that girls who had received this vaccine did not, in fact, have any increased sexual promiscuity compared with their peers who did not receive the vaccine. Why was this study done? One reason for lower vaccination rates with this recommended vaccine (compared to other vaccines recommended in this age group) was parental concern that giving their preteen and teenage daughters this shot would appear to be giving “permission” to be more sexually active since they would be protected.
This study looked back at roughly 1400 girls over three and a half years. Almost one third of these girls received the Gardasil vaccine, while the other 2/3 did not. After the immunization, medical issues that can result from increased sexual activity- pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases- were measured and compared between groups. Results? No significant difference in the two groups.
The results are not surprising, but I am happy to have this data to help reassure any parents who may have this concern. I have not yet found a teen who believes that the Gardasil vaccine somehow makes them bullet-proof in the sexual arena, although I have seen many who falsely believe condoms will do so- but that is a different discussion. If teens are aware of Gardasil, they know it is “for cancer”. Only the rare teen (and parent, frankly) seems to realize that this vaccine also protects against genital warts- a disease that affects over a MILLION sexually active people each year in the United States; a disease that often destroys the self-image of young people just as they are trying to make critical life decisions. Genital warts make people feel “dirty” and “gross”, and although we can treat warts to make new outbreaks resolve more quickly, we do not have a cure. And if you’ve ever had a wart frozen off your knee or finger, you know it hurts, so add painful plus embarrassing when that wart is in the genital area.
BOTTOM LINE: Gardasil is recommended as part of our routine vaccinations for both girls and boys to protect them from HPV-related cancers and genital warts. If your child is not yet vaccinated, talk with his or her doctor at the next visit.