I am not anti-vax, but I was against giving my teens the HPV vaccine. Completely. That changed when I had an in-depth conversation with a vaccine researcher during a private workshop at the Mom 2.0 Conference in Austin, TX. A vaccine researcher with Glaxo-Smith Kline (GSK) answered the following seven (7) questions and that led me to have a change of heart. They may change your heart, too.
This post is possible with support from the American Cancer Society. Learn how you can protect your child against cancer at bit.ly/HPVTexas. All opinions are authentically my own. Read my full disclosure statement at this link.
The Marketing Approach
Don’t guilt me into doing something
You wanna know the best way to get me not to do something? Tell me I have to do it. Add a cherry on top by telling me if I don’t do something, it will be bad for my children and me.
Early marketing campaigns directed at parents were dark and guilt-laden. They were not presenting the decision to vaccinate as good. Rather, the choice not to vaccinate was bad.
The researcher I spoke with at Mom 2.0 admitted the strategy didn’t go over very well. And honestly, his admission was enough for me to listen.
Lack of Education
It’s cancer prevention, not sex education.
At my daughter’s 10-year checkup, her pediatrician recommended we begin the HPV vaccination. I remember asking a ton of questions, many that were not answered to my satisfaction. My main challenge with the conversation is it centered on giving children a vaccination to address sexual health and disease prevention. Why not just engage in sexual health and disease prevention education instead?
I asked the researcher why STI prevention was the focus of this vaccine. His answer was simpler than I expected. He admitted that we were talking about the wrong thing.
The HPV vaccine prevents cancers that are caused by HPV infections. And while the most common method of spreading HPV is sexual contact, cancer prevention is a completely different conversation. It feels better to engage in a discussion about cancer prevention for my adolescent than it does to talk about STI prevention.
Now that those two issues are cleared up, let’s address some deeper questions you may have. I shared the answer to all the questions and more on Facebook. Watch the entire video.
It’s Not Required
I had the choice, and I made it.
I am going to keep it real. My resistance to the vaccine can be boiled down to one simple fact: I didn’t have to do it. So I didn’t. Yeah, it was presented the wrong way, but that just made me double down on my choice to say no.
I am not anti-vax. If I gave myself a rating I’d be a vaccination moderate. My children started their education in public school, so I made sure they had all the shots that were required. This one wasn’t required.
My conversation in Austin shed light on how starting the HPV vaccination sooner than later can improve the chances of prevention. HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will have one at some point in their lifetime. Most of the time, they clear up with no treatment, so we often don’t know.
Vaccinating a child before exposure greatly reduces the chance of developing HPV-related cancer.
There Wasn’t Enough Data
How do I even know it works?
The HPV vaccine became available in 2006. My son was seven, and my daughter was one year old. When my daughter was ten, there was not a ton of published research or data supporting its use or outcomes written for the public.
Five years later, there is much more available data concerning the safety and success the vaccine has had preventing cancer. And while no vaccine prevents every case every time, the HPV vaccine has been 90% effective at preventing the cancers it targets. This fact grabbed my attention and made me want to know more.
My Oldest Child is Boy
Does he even need this?
I honestly don’t remember our pediatrician talking to us about the HPV vaccine for my son. At all. As soon as my daughter turned ten, the topic was addressed. I suppose because cervical cancer is discussed more often than penile cancer.
I asked the researcher if HPV causes cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer, why does my son need it? His answer was again simpler than I imagined.
HPV is primarily spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact through cuts, scapes, and mucous membranes. There are six different types of cancer the HPV vaccine aims to prevent. It helps protect men from cancers of the throat, penis, and anus. It helps protect women from cancers of the cervix, throat, vagina, anus, and vulva.
Your son can contract HPV by having intimate contact with someone who has an active infection.
What else can happen besides cancer?
Every vaccine has potential side effects. The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are typically mild and resolve quickly. I have heard stories from other parents about more severe reactions, and they are indeed scary. Full stop.
There is no way to ease the anxiety of knowing that more serious issues are possible. And they are possible, but they are not likely.
Why Is There Only One Option
There used to be more than one option, right?
As I shared, the researcher I spoke with in Austin worked with a pharmaceutical company that manufactures an HPV vaccine. Before 2016 there were two options available, but the company made the choice to pull their vaccine off the market in the United States. This move raised questions among parents faced with the decision to vaccinate or not.
There is now only one HPV vaccine available in the United States. Why? Because it works and it works really well. So well, it was 100% effective during its trial. And the other vaccine is still available outside the United States which wouldn’t be allowed if it wasn’t safe. The company made a decision about business, not about safety.
So there you have it. Given the chance to do it all again, I would not change the way I decided to vaccinate my children against cancers caused by HPV. I had questions that weren’t being answered by the people who were supposed to answer them. But once they were answered, I could move ahead with the decision.
Learn more about how the HPV vaccine can protect your children at bit.ly/HPVTexas.
Have you given your child the HPV? What other questions do you have about it?