HPV Vaccine Should you Consent?
Sep 20, 2011
By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
I work with a lot of mothers at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy. Some recent discussion has been about the HPV vaccine. Recently letters and consent forms were sent out to all parents of grade six girls from the public health nurses. The province is offering all Grade Six girls the human papillomavirus vaccine or HPV Vaccine. There is some unease, controversy and a lot of questions about the vaccine because of what it protects against.
HPV is a virus of over 100 types. There are about 15 types which are known to be high risk, causing pre-cancerous lesions and cervical cancer. Over 99% of cervical cancer is caused by persistent HPV infection. Most of these are sexually transmitted. InManitoba, there are up 50 cases per year of cervical cancer alone, causing approximately 15 deaths annually. The HPV infection, which cannot be cured, has also been linked to oral cancer and anal cancer. HPV is also responsible for genital warts. As you can see this is not the easiest topic to discuss, but it is an important one!
The immunization is a series of three needles. They will take place in October, December and in the spring. All parents must either consent or not consent to the vaccine. Controversy for the HPV vaccine arises because we are giving a vaccine to girls to prevent a sexually transmitted virus at a young age. However; Grade 6 was chosen because it provides protection for the future. Studies show Canadians become sexually active around the age of 15 and 50% will contract some type of HPV virus in their lifetime.
While the vaccine only provides coverage against four types of HPV, these strains account for almost 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts. New vaccines must show effectiveness in studies before they are approved. Studies were performed in which females received the vaccine and some received no vaccine. While it was unethical to wait to see if the females who did not receive the vaccine develop more cancer, scientists were able to see the vaccine did a very good job of preventing precursors to cancer.
Short term data gives us every reason to believe the vaccine is safe. Over 35 million does of the HPV vaccine have been given, with very few adverse effects. In original drug trials people who received the vaccine did not have any more significant side effects than the people who received placebo. We do not believe the vaccine has any long term effects, but because it is fairly new, we are unable to give a definite answer. The most common side effects from the vaccine are mild. They include pain, swelling and redness in the area where the needle was given.
Just because your daughter receives the vaccine does mean they are 100% protected. Regular physicals and pap tests are still recommended. HPV infections occur without any symptoms and the progression of the HPV virus to cancerous cells often has no symptoms. Regular health checks are essential.
If you or a family member have not received the vaccine and are interested in it you should speak to your family physician. You can obtain the vaccine with a prescription and it is indicated in females between the ages of 9 and 26. Most private insurance programs will pay a portion of the three injections. The U.S. FDA has now approved the vaccine for males between the ages of 9 and 26 for the prevention of genital warts. Currently there is not indication for males inCanada. Further studies are being done to see if there is additional benefit.
Anytime we can prevent illness in our children we usually try and do it! Ultrasounds are performed to ensure the baby is healthy. We inject vaccines as tiny babies in hope of preventing a disease. We lined them up for the swine flu vaccine when the threat was present. We give them Tylenol when a fever develops, in hope it does not progress. Anytime we decide to act, there is a small risk involved. However; the potential benefit of preventing a serious problem outweighs the small risk. As a parent you need to weigh the small risks of the HPV vaccine versus the potential benefit. I think it will make the choice that much easier.
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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.
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