12:16 GMT28 May 2020
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    It's Science, People: Vaccine Keeps Young People Safe

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    Scientists have long argued that vaccinating young women against the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. is an important step toward protecting them against cancer later in life. But some parents are worried such vaccination programs encourage promiscuity and unsafe sex.

    A new study, which appears today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, indicates such fears are unfounded. 

    These findings suggest that fears of increased risky sexual behavior following HPV vaccination are unwarranted and should not be a barrier to vaccinating at a young age”, said Dr. Leah Smith of McGill University, one of the authors of the study. 

    Big Analysis

    A vaccine against HPV, which protects against the four main strains of the virus that cause 70% of cervical cancers, has been available since 2006 and is licensed for use in almost 100 countries worldwide. Many countries have national vaccination programs for both teenage boys and girls. 

    This study was huge: it tracked more than 260,000 young women who were eligible for HPV vaccination in the Canadian province of Ontario, starting in the 2007-08 school year when it was first offered. The study followed the girls for 5 years until they completed high school. It looked at rates of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) as proxies for unsafe sexual behavior. 

    Just over half of the girls in the study received a complete course of the vaccine. As the research progressed, about 6% of those vaccinated became pregnant or contracted an STI. This rate was comparable to girls who did not get vaccinated. 

    Fear Unwarranted

    According to the study, one of the major reasons parents decide not to have their teenage girls vaccinated is because they fear an increase in sexual promiscuity amongst their daughters. Other research data from the US underlines why this choice may not be the best, especially when it comes to women’s long-term health.

    A study released in November showed that states with high HPV vaccination rates have some of the lowest incidences of cervical cancer in the country. In Massachusetts, which has an HPV vaccination rate of 69%, the rate of women who get cervical cancer each year is 6 per 100,000. In Arkansas, where the vaccination rate falls to 41% of teen girls, the cervical cancer rate is 10 per 100,000. 

    These states could really use some interventions to increase the rates of HPV vaccination now,” said the lead author of the US study, Jennifer Moss, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina. 

    Hopefully there will be big dividends in the coming decades in terms of cancer mortality.”

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